A rom-com of what might have been

Rachel Brennan and Sean Close play the couple at the center of Don Zolidis' "Miles and Ellie," at Montgomery Theater.
Rachel Brennan and Sean Close play the couple at the center of Don Zolidis' "Miles and Ellie," at Montgomery Theater. (BILL PAPULA)
Posted: September 22, 2013

Miles and Ellie, a new play by Don Zolidis, has just the sort of script the Montgomery Theater loves: a rom-com trading in the difficult relationships and dysfunctional family dynamics of the comfortable class. It's an evening's entertainment that is by turns sweet, sad, funny, ridiculous, and, despite some fine performances, grating.

Narrated by Ellie (Rachel Brennan), the couple's tale unspools through two episodes. Act 1 presents the blossom and wither of a high school romance; Act 2 occurs 20 years later, when Ellie returns home for Thanksgiving after a nasty divorce.

The show's problems exist mostly in its secondary characters. Ellie's father, Burt (Tom Teti), a hypocritical Republican state senator, speaks to his family in values-first campaign speeches, while her mother, Mary (Gerri Weagraff), is little more than a sight gag, a cookie-baking, stand-by-your-man paper doll. Meanwhile, an older sister, Illyana (Jessica Bedford), bullies Ellie like a real-life Lucy Van Pelt. Thank Bedford's comic timing for making this character watchable, if not believable.

Some of the distortion is a matter of perspective. Ellie narrates, so she gets to exaggerate. And it's true, she's been living a frozen life, wondering what might have been if things had worked out with Miles, the boy from health class assigned to care for a diaper-clad bag of flour with her overnight (though I've yet to hear of a real-life health class that asks teenagers to spend the night together or to record a vicious argument for educational purposes).

As directed by Tom Quinn, Brennan's Ellie is impulsive, neurotic, spiteful. Any Austenite could tell you there's nothing wrong with a flawed heroine, but she must have some redeeming qualities. Young Ellie, well, she's young. Older Ellie's screeching and sulking just make her seem brittle and unhinged. Zolidis should note that Sean Close's thoughtful, awkward Miles, a character with no backstory and little of the expository dialogue heaped on the others, makes the most impact.

It's been a pleasure to watch Close's rise through the ranks of Philadelphia theater, and this restrained performance ought to offer more proof that this young actor can singlehandedly save a production from itself (and he has, here and elsewhere).

Miles and Ellie

Presented through Sept. 29 at Montgomery Theater, 124 N. Main St., Souderton. Tickets: $23-$35. Information: 215-723-9984 or www.montgomerytheater.org.

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