Isn’t It Romantic, written by Wendy Wasserstein and directed by Arielle Katz, follows Janie Blumberg (Elizabeth A. Weiss) and Harriet Cornwall (Betsy Ryan), both in their late 20s and both trying to decide what they want out of life. Set in the 1980s, the common theme of “Can a woman have it all?” ages pretty well, thanks to good, animated staging and pacing by Katz. This show could very easily turn into a couple of hours of people sitting onstage, but Katz keeps things fresh by giving her blocking levels and dividing the stage into quadrants which in turn represent different locations.
Isn’t It Romantic’s strength isn’t in its plot but its snappy and comedic dialogue. As the people with the majority of the lines, Weiss and Ryan bear the majority of the responsibility to keep the show running briskly, and they do not disappoint. Weiss plays Janie as mercurial and a little bratty, which makes her strong, emotional scenes play beautifully. In excellent contrast to Weiss is Ryan, playing Harriet as headstrong, motivated, and (at least superficially) very confident. Ryan is incredibly believable as a career-motivated businesswoman.
As different as Janie and Harriet are, their romantic partners differ even more. Marty (Matthew Cibek) is Janie’s old-fashioned, sweet, practical beau, while Paul (Kevin Sockwell) is Harriet’s boss’s boss (and her very married paramour). It’s hard to hate Marty, despite his very antiquated opinions about a woman’s role, mainly because Cibek is sweet and disarming. Sockwell, on the other hand, makes Paul the perfect person to loathe, unflinchingly sleazy and sexist. I later read in the program that Sockwell is a late addition to the cast, with only a week of rehearsal. This was in no way evident from his performance, which was nuanced and felt comfortable alongside Ryan’s Harriet.
Rounding out the main cast are Janie and Harriet’s respective parents. Simon Blumberg (Michael Abendshein) and Tasha Blumberg (Deirdre Gyr Turshen) baby their daughter Janie even into adulthood, while Lillian Cornwall (Nancy Somers) raised Harriet to be self-reliant; their relationship is less maternal and more like a friendship. Abendshein and Gyr are a cute pair, with Abendshein’s understated concern and Gyr’s delightfully almost-manic energy. Somers’ commanding stage presence reads perfectly as the career woman that Harriet could become. Gyr and Somers’ scene together to open the second half of the play is a juxtaposition of opposites, but they find common ground in their love for their children.
In very memorable cameo roles are Colleen Williams and Thomas Barylski. Isn’t It Romantic uses answering machine messages as transitions between scenes, and Williams bursts onto the stage as Cynthia Peterson, a heinously irritating and nasal woman forever leaving needy messages for Janie. Williams is energetic and punctuates some of the more somber moments of the play with much-needed loopiness. Barylski is an absolute treasure to watch as Vladimir, a cab driver who only very recently moved to America from Russia, with a very limited English vocabulary. Barylski doesn’t say much, but doesn’t really have to; his cheerful, blissfully unaware smile and friendliness brightens the stage.
Barylski is also the show’s Technical Director, and alongside assistant director/stage manager Arielle Seidman-Joria, keeps the show’s many scene changes and transitions moving along smoothly. Weiss also served as the producer and costumer, another creative tour de force wearing several hats for this production.
Isn’t It Romantic has a very limited run, but this is a show you won’t want to miss!
Running time: Two and a half hours, with a 10-minute intermission.