Wendy Wasserstein’s comedic play ISN’T IT ROMANTIC follows two friends in their late twenties as they try to navigate the harsh waters of romance and careers in 1980s Manhattan. One is Janie Blumberg (Madi Houff), a Jewish freelance writer struggling to establish independence from her well-meaning but occasionally overbearing parents (Rachel Barton and Peter Matthews) while still maintaining her ethnic identity. The other is Harriet Cornwall (Jessica Eppler), the daughter of a successful executive (Gini Brosius) who’s trying to carve her own high-powered career path at Colgate. They both become involved in disastrous relationships—Janie with Marty Sterling (Jediah J. Bulgrien), a successful and sweet but occasionally condescending Jewish doctor who calls her “Monkey,” much to her dismay; and Harriet with Paul Stuart (Michael Collins), a married higher-level executive at Colgate. With their friendship as a centerpiece, Janie and Harriet deal with the difficult choices faced by most women with humor and charm (and occasionally sadness and frustration).
This play wouldn’t work without two very strong and likeable actresses in the lead roles of Janie and Harriet. Fortunately, Chapel Street’s production features two such performers. Madi Houff brings an instant likeability to the character of Janie. She’s smart, sarcastic, and fun, and she makes it easy for the audience to connect with her. Jessica Eppler is delightful as Harriet. She’s so natural onstage that she makes you forget that she’s playing a character. Another standout performer is Rachel Barton as Tasha, Janie’s eccentric mother. A woman who’s equal parts flighty artist (she’s a dancer) and overprotective mother, Tasha is one of the best characters in the show, and Barton brings tons of energy to the role. Fadi Greene makes the most of his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role of Vladimir, eliciting great laughs from the audience in his short moments onstage.
Wasserstein’s script occasionally feels dated—which is expected considering it’s set in the early 1980s—and the dialogue’s occasional strong language feels out of place. But the Chapel Street Players still pull off the show well. The ‘80s costumes were fun and nostalgic—I especially enjoyed Harriet’s big hair and Janie’s short cropped hair and oversize glasses. The set was simple but effective. All the major set pieces are already onstage at the beginning of the show, eliminating the need for lengthy scene changes—although it did take a moment to get used to having Central Park in the middle of two apartment sets. Director Nancy Storch keeps things moving and stages the scenes well.
Chapel Street is a small, intimate theater located in downtown Newark, Delaware. Give yourself extra time to get there because it can be difficult to find parking. (Chapel Street’s Web site has parking information so you can research before you arrive.) As an added bonus, the program includes coupons to three local restaurants.
ISN’T IT ROMANTIC
by Wendy Wasserstein
Directed by Nancy Storch
April 27-May 5, 2012
Chapel Street Players
27 N. Chapel St.
Newark, DE 19711