Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bugs and the Human Heart

An Entomologist's Love Story

World Premiere
Written by Melissa Ross
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli

May 8 to June 23, 2018

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street San Francisco, CA 94102
sfplayhouse.org  


Reviewed by Christine Okon

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even entomologists with PhDs do it.

And they find out that love’s a bitch.

San Francisco Playhouse brings us another great World Premiere play with Melissa Ross’s  An Entomologist’s Love Story, a smart, delightful, educational, funny and very moving look at love at all levels.

The play begins with an eeewww-inducing big-screen projection of an insect to illustrate a lecture on the sex lives of insects, given by Betty, a PhD-certified entomologist with the NYC Museum of Natural History. Betty has given this talk many times, and even though it strains her adherence to the scientific method she knows and loves, she realizes that sex, after all, sells. With spicy, sardonic wit she narrates slide after slide of the violent world of insect love, where the female often destroys the male after she’s done with him, concluding with everyone’s favorite: the female praying mantis chomping off the head of her partner. Lori Prince's Betty is serious, snarky and borderline frumpy, quick to strike out with a confidence that veils lurking insecurity.

Jeff (Lucas Verbrugghe) and Betty (Lori Prince) in the lab
Betty has studied bugs for years, and science is her life, or at least the only life she has allowed. She has little tolerance for sloppier, unpredictable activities that humans are prone to, like relationships. Her caustic wit, self-containment and knee-jerk hostility protect her like an emotional exoskeleton as she reigns over the lab that she shares with her lab partner of many years, Jeff. Lucas Verbrugghe as Jeff is the perfect foil, likable in his good-guy simplicity as we root for him to withstand Betty’s constant beration and grip. Like the hundreds of insect specimens displayed floor to ceiling (kudos to set designer Nina Ball), Betty assumes she has Jeff pinned and wriggling.

Lindsay (Jessica Lynn Carroll) and Jeff (Lucas Verbrugghe)

There’s a bedbug scare in the city, and a worried young woman named Lindsay (sweetly unassuming and unpretentious) emails the lab to find out what bit her in the night to cause a rash on her leg. Betty punts the query to Jeff, who makes an extra effort to help and eventually meet the young woman. The possibility of a relationship excites Jeff but inflames Betty who launches a salvo of insults about Lindsay; she concludes that Jeff, like most men, only cares about looks and sweetness and that Lindsay is probably a silly and stupid bimbo. Yay for Jeff as he stands up to Betty’s barrage and continues a relationship with Lindsay who insists, while peeking through the lab microscope, that the bug is staring back at her, that it has a face. This is not possible, says Jeff the scientist, but Lindsay persists with the simple question “but how do you know?” a question that's a threshold to other realms of thinking and being. This is what makes the play so wonderful: that it is possible to see beyond the habits of certainty to experience life.

Andy (Will Springhorn Jr.) and Betty (Lori Prince)

Betty later meets Andy, a stranger who has seen her lectures, on a park bench, and quickly retreats into her protective shell by making assumptions about his life and character. Will Springhorn Jr., resembling a young Nick Cage, is superb as Andy who delivers some of the best lines in the play, especially the subjunctive and heartfelt litany of “what if I told you that..” to dispel each of Betty’s assumptions about him. Each character in this love story is richly painted with surprising and delightful character points.

Beautifully directed, An Entomologist’s Love Story bookends with Betty again lecturing, this time about why fireflies blink in the night darkness. Thanks to Kurt Landisman’s beautiful lighting design, those fireflies could just as easily be seen as stars, depending on how you look at it.

Behind the scenes look: https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2017-2018-season/entomologists-love-story/


An Entomologist's Love Story

CAST
LINDSAY  Jessica Lynn Carroll
BETTY Lori Prince
ANDY  Will Springhorn Jr.
JEFF Lucas Verbrugghe

CREW
PLAYWRIGHT Melissa Ross
DIRECTOR Giovanna Sardelli
SCENIC DESIGNER Nina Ball
COSTUME DESIGNER  Brooke Jennings
SOUND & PROJECTIONS DESIGNER Theodore J.H. Hulsker
LIGHTING DESIGNER Kurt Landisman
PROPERTIES DESIGNER Jacquelyn Scott

Photos by Jessica Palopoli




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