As the saying goes, “Everybody loves a clown.” Even though parts of Love is in the Air are still rough around the edges and occasionally hard to follow (perhaps due to some technical gaffes with subtitles), the majority of this sixty-minute comedy succeeds. Even if you really don’t love a clown, you at least have to respect the man who flings himself across the stage and then dances his way back off again. Thankfully, the Kiek in the de Kök players are an affable group, and the silent film they are pantomiming has some great physical poetry, even if the plot is merely a device to abuse the aptly named Hapless Henry (Dustin Helmer, who also created the show).
Abuse him they do: first, the stylish Valentino Zalemero (Justin Tyler) steals his first love, and then the mustachioed villain, Boffo Mysterioso (Seth Powers), sabotages his second love by means of, in no particular order, a vacuum cleaner, a banana peel, and the devil. The love interests, wily Aimee LaBlatte and ingénue Plain Jane (played by Anna Moore and Jennie Smith), give subtler performances (since they don’t have as much stage time), but both make you feel even worse for poor Henry. For a comedy, the final scene between Plane Jane and Henry’s hat (a one-person duet) is almost heartbreaking. Love is in the Air succeeds because of moments like these, although the transitions between them need to be faster (no offense to Slow Joe, Sleepy Sue, and Saucy Seppy, who do their best to entertain between scenes).
Love is in the Air also succeeds in its use of space. Before the show even begins, director Paul Peers has the cast down in aisles, interacting with the audience, which helps us to invest on a personal level. The use of an onstage band to play the accompanying score serves as a sort of anchor against all the chaos that follows. Finally, by exaggerating the actions at the beginning (thanks in part to Marty Keiser’s unabashed exuberance as the Man of Many Faces), the too-large stage never dwarfs the action, it just fittingly makes Hapless Henry seem more and more hopeless.
For a relatively short and silent piece, Love is in the Air crams in a lot, and even takes a few extra pratfalls for good measure. This is an outstanding ensemble, and while they sometimes stretch the limits of the play, the play very often stretches them right back with big group numbers that are an absolute joy to watch, and some difficult small-scale work (like a scene where the two romantic leads mirror each other in their preparations for a big dance). Overall, the piece needs a more steadied momentum and a few more comic character signatures, but the heart is there, and it’s beating a strong, steady sixty “ha-has” a second.
14th Street Y Theater (344 E14th Street)
Tickets (718-594-6201): $15
Performances (Closes May 6): Thursday-Saturday @ 8:00
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.