Smart humor, engaging cast elevate 'Strictly Platonic' despite familiar plot

Larry McKenna's "Strictly Platonic" at the stars Brendan Cataldo and Sarah Braverman just in time for Valentine's Day. Hedgerow Theatre
Larry McKenna's "Strictly Platonic" at the stars Brendan Cataldo and Sarah Braverman just in time for Valentine's Day. Hedgerow Theatre (Hedgerow Theatre)
Posted: February 11, 2013

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Hedgerow Theatre serves up the world premiere of Larry McKenna's Strictly Platonic, a cute, chocolate-covered cherry of a romantic comedy.

McKenna's 11-scene, 90-minute script wastes no time setting up its well-worn premise: It poses the life-altering question, "Do you ever look for meaningful relationships?"

The recipient of that question invariably is a self-centered, shallow playboy, in this case, real estate agent Tim (Brendan Cataldo). We meet him in the first scene as he rides home on the train from a night of bar hopping - and phone-number scoring - with his best friend, Josh (Jamie Goldman), an embittered Beta to Tim's Alpha Male on the Prowl.

When Josh calls it a night, Tim meets Annie (Sarah Braverman), a blind woman he rescues from a mugging.

A familiar formula follows: Handsome boy meets interesting girl with a perceived drawback; the girl's many virtues occasion him to question his previously held values; their budding relationship enriches (or at least reveals) his true character.

We've seen this script before, in works as diverse as Neil LaBute's play Fat Pig (not to mention his In the Company of Men), the film Shallow Hal, and the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp. In a different production, McKenna's play would easily find detractors asking why we should sit through one more story about a good-natured woman bringing about the enlightenment of an arrogant man.

Hedgerow's casting almost encourages this cynical reaction: Few men would fail to fall for a stunning size-2 brunette like Annie, despite her disability, annoying quirks, and sarcasm.

McKenna further litters his text with out-of-character literary references to Don Juan, Emily Dickinson, and James Michener, stories and authors more likely known to my grandparents than his Internet- and iPhone-addicted "millennial generation" characters.

But under McKenna's direction, Braverman's Annie has an earnest, engaging attitude that asks for no sympathy. Her sly, self-deprecating manner, Cataldo's genuine bonhomie, and the play's smart humor elevate its simple script into a delightful treat that's sweet to its center and, ultimately, worth every bite.

Strictly Platonic

At Hedgerow Theatre,

64 Rose Valley Rd., Rose Valley. Through March 3.

Tickets: $10 to $32. Information: 610-565-4211


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