Murray Schisgal’s LUV, now at the Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township, has been described as a combination of typical Broadway comedy and theatre of the absurd at its best. The original Broadway production was nominated for five Tony awards, won three of them, and ran for 901 performances. There was a 1967 movie version, but it was not successful, even though it starred Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk and Elaine May, probably because it departed too much from the original.
Its characters are larger than life and the situations so bizarre that you can’t help laughing at them. Harry Berlin (Paul McElwee) is a “born loser” who has suffered the ultimate put-down (wait until you find out what) and decides to jump off a bridge. Milt Mansfield (John Jackowski), a prosperous businessman, comes along in time to prevent the suicide, then recognizes Harry as an old college chum. Milt tries to cheer and encourage Harry, but soon reveals that he himself is unhappy despite his wealth. His wife, Ellen (Jaclyn Dixon), will not give him a divorce so that he can marry his true love, Linda. Then he has an idea. Why not bring Harry and Ellen together? So he does. It isn’t an easy courtship, if it can be called that, but eventually they hit it off. Milt’s plan is successful. By Act II, Harry and Ellen are married and so are Milt and Linda. Are they happy? What do you think?
This play presents strong challenges to the three actors (Linda is never seen), and this cast rises to them admirably. Falls and leaps seem to happen naturally. Harry is sometimes temporarily paralyzed, becoming stiff as a board and defying the law of gravity. Sometimes he even loses his sight, hearing or speech temporarily. McElwee brings it off hilariously. Jackowski adds another first-rate comic portrayal to his list of Ritz triumphs, including Lancelot in SPAMALOT and Liebkind in THE PRODUCERS. Dixon is perfect as the dowdy but strong wife who still believes in “luv.”
The show also excels technically. The beautiful set depicting the bridge (inspired by the Ben Franklin span connecting Philadelphia and Camden) was designed by Ernie Jewell and director Bruce A. Curless (who is also Producing Artistic Director of the Ritz). Dan Ison provided the original music and sound design. Lighting design is by Chris Miller and costume design by Ron Paluso. You have to see Ellen’s second-act black-and-white dress to believe it.
Underneath all the slapstick and absurdity you may detect some subtle commentary on human nature, marriage, and yes, love—no matter how you spell it. But don’t worry about that. Just go and have fun.
By Murray Schisgal
Directed by Bruce A. Curless
September 6-October 6, 2012
The Ritz Theatre Company
915 White Horse Pike
Haddon Twp, NJ 08107