I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change
Book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Music by Jimmy Roberts
Directed by Andy Gale
Produced by Nederlander of Bethesda, LLC for the Bethesda Theatre
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
How could you not enjoy I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at the new Bethesda Theatre? Well, I suppose you could chew on ground glass while you watch the production, or obsess on your own many failed relationships while the four giddy characters giggle and sing about theirs. But who wants to do that? Why not saunter over to the Honest Tea bar in the lobby, and knock back an adult beverage? And after that, plop into one of the big seats, turn off your fevered and overused brain, and snort and guffaw with the rest of us?
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is musical sketch comedy. More than that: it is Saturday Night Live set to music, if Saturday Night Live was concerned with no subject but love. And why not? Love has been the most reliable subject for comedy ever since Ogg, while trying to court Lagog, accidentally hit himself with his own club (Neanderthal Night Live, August 8, 72856 B.C.) And if the tropes are a little familiar, who cares? This agreeable cast – excellent actors with more than satisfactory voices – will tickle us under the chin as they tell us the story again.
The first Act is given over to tropes about courtship, and the second Act is given over to tropes about marriage. Scott Evans and Marcie Henderson are the nerds who long to be (and briefly are) hot thangs. Henderson and Jean Arbeiter bemoan the total absence of civilized heterosexual male company as Timothy Warmer plays a man so low that he acts out scenes from Caddyshack on a date. Warmer is a macho character who dissolves into tears at a chick flick. Henderson is a woman who actually gets a phone call from a guy who promises to call and reacts by performing a ceremony usually reserved for the establishment of a new religion. The second Act is similarly familiar: Arbeiter is a perpetual bridesmaid with a closet full of hideous dresses and a treasury of hideous divorce stories. Warmer and Henderson are new parents who have lost the ability to speak in adult. Warmer is the beaten-down husband who recovers his sense of command behind the wheel. You get the picture.
However, DiPietro and Roberts are not above occasionally goosing us with something original or bizarre. Warmer is a mass murderer serving seven consecutive life sentences at Lorton, brought in to lecture to a group of over-30 unmarrieds (lesson: don’t be so choosy). Henderson makes a dating-club video in which she describes exactly who she is: an angry divorcee with kids (talk about Honest Tea!) And Warmer and Arbeiter are a man and a woman in their sunset years, stripped by death of their lifelong loves, who discover- at a funeral – that their hearts are still capable of beating and their blood is still capable of heating.
The last bit of offbeat sentimentality is the trademark of playwright-lyricist DiPietro, who as a result of this show plus his megahit Over the River and Through the Woods is now able to insulate his mansion, should he choose, with thousand-dollar bills. DiPietro did not reach this stage of his career by alienating or condescending to his audience. While the material is not complex, it’s clever and it makes sense. Roberts’ music here (delivered by a heroic two-person band, pianist Vince Di Mura and violinist Jennyrose Spence) is awfully easy on the ears, although not particularly memorable.
The new Bethesda Theatre still has some bugs to work out on its technical side; Warmer’s mike gave out in the penultimate scene (he made himself heard anyway, without strain); the automated movement of scenery was not without its creaks and moans, and once in a while we could see stagelights (and stagehands) behind the set. But they’ll have plenty of time to fix it up; God bless them, the show’s going to be around for a while.
So I recommend you come early, bring your quarters (the nearest parking is all metered), goggle at what they’ve done to the old Bethesda Cinema & Drafthouse – the wonderful furnishings and the dazzling dessert-factory colors (was Art Deco made for theater, or what?), flip yourself into the neutral position and let the laughs wash over you. Just remember to reengage your brain before you get in the car.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change will continue Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. until December 31. Tickets are priced from $40 to $75 and can be purchased at the box office, 7719 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda (10-8 Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11-2 Sundays), by calling 800-551-SEAT, or by going to http://www.bethesdatheatre.com/