Matthew Dellapina and Jenny Wales in The City Theatre’s production of The 13th of Paris.
Photo credit: John Schisler.
Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl, or boy argues with girl until they hate each other, or boy opens a major chain bookstore around the corner from girl’s spunky independent bookstore, or boy does something else that’s clearly on the wrong path. But then boy wins girl back. We know the basic story so well, in so many variations, it’s hard to imagine a new twist on it. It’s the classic romantic comedy plot, backbone of countless novels and chick flicks.
The current production at City Theater, The 13th of Paris, is billed as a romantic comedy, but this label is a bit unfair. Sure, the play follows the basic rom-com storyline for the most part. But it doesn’t start with a "meet cute" — it jumps right into the good stuff: the turmoil of the "boy loses girl" stage. And this small change leaves much more time to debate interesting questions of love in a modern world, questions that a standard romantic comedy never has enough time to confront.
In this case, the boy — Vincent — doesn’t lose the girl per se. He walks away from her, of his own volition, because he isn’t sure if the sweet and happy feelings he feels are the right kind of love. Shouldn’t he and she be wildly and crazily consumed by their passion for each other? Think Romeo and Juliet, Heathcliff and Catherine, Rick and Ilsa. Theirs are Great Loves. What is one to make of a love composed of pleasant Sunday mornings sitting in bed and doing crossword puzzles, talking in private languages, or not talking at all? Surely Rick and Ilsa would never do crossword puzzles, and they’d never talk in fake robot talk.
To be clear, Vincent isn’t looking for movie-style love. He wants a real-life love: the love his grandparents had for each other. The love he wants is what he’s seen captured in letters his grandfather wrote in the course of a fifteen year marriage, packed full of talk of endless, limitless love. And who wouldn’t want a love like that?
As simple a question as it seems, this play gives reason to think otherwise, or at least to appreciate the alternatives. And it does so in a wholly entertaining, light, bittersweet manner. Everything about this show evokes Parisian charm with a modern, American awareness, from a stellar cast to immaculate direction to evocative sets and production.
The show trips along in a brisk but unhurried 90 minutes, so it’s also a great component in a dinner-and-a-show evening. If you’re looking for a romantic night out, look to this South Side outpost of the Treizieme arrondissement.
The 13th of Paris at City Theatre, through February 17, 2008
Show details and ticket information at the City Theatre website