In playwright Julia Lederer’s With Love and a Major Organ, a West Coast premiere directed by Jessica Kubzansky at Boston Court Performing Arts Center, a warm, spontaneous woman falls ardently in love with a stranger she meets on the subway. The main idea — a quest for love requited — may be as old as the hills, but Lederer’s wit and poetic language, along with Kubzansky’s directorial finesse and state-of the-art staging, make for a beguiling evening of theater.
Anabel (Paige Lindsey White) is traveling to work on the morning train when she encounters — and is immediately dazzled by — George (Daisuke Tsuji), a man as wary and reticent as she is candid and open. At 31, George still lives with his mom, Mona (Bonita Friedericy), a lonely person with rigid habits who challenges her son’s choices (vegetarianism, a penchant for dodgeball) and fusses at him as if he were still a child.
To protect him from heartbreak, Mona replaced George’s pulsing heart with a paper one when he was an infant. It’s no wonder George is inhibited when it comes to relationships, stifling his initial attraction to Anabel and fleeing her overtures. These attempts to nab George’s attention include surreptitiously slipping audiotapes with declarations of her love into his pockets and later, in a radically desperate move, plucking her heart from her chest and dispatching it to him in a manila envelope.
While Anabel is pursuing George, Mona is searching for love via the internet, having first consulted with GoogleShrink, an online bot that analyzes a person’s feelings, voice patterns and so on, then sends a therapeutic prescription in an email. But Mona, so far, has been no luckier in scoring love than Anabel has; instead, her repeated efforts to exchange email addresses with her online chat partners are met with rude beeps and screens abruptly gone dark.
With Love and a Major Organ opens with a couple of tentative introductory sequences, then takes off around White’s appearance as the vulnerable yet indefatigably buoyant Anabel. It’s a winning performance, from first to last. As the contained and cautious George, Tsuji weaves a flawless foil, while as Mona, Friedericy offers a deft portrayal of a lonesome person timorously seeking a fresh start in a tech world she doesn’t quite get.
The production also features some wonderfully wordless moments: Scenes in which George and Mona dine together, their cutlery clicking against their plates with rhythmic cadence, serve as pithy commentaries on lives lived in harnessed shadow.
The tech, as per usual at this company, is impressive. Projection designer Hana Sooyeon Kim’s extraordinary images, enhanced by lighting by Elizabeth Harper and Rose Malone on Francois-Pierre Couture set, construct a fantastical illusion of a moving metro train, complete with chimerical images of commuters on station platforms where it stops. Elsewhere large digital display panels drolly highlight scenes where Mona struggles through online speed-dating sessions. John Nobori’s three-dimensional sound omnipresently augments the wry comedy in the narrative.
GO! Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; through Nov. 5. (626) 683-6883, bostoncourt.com.
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