By Bryson David Hoff
Human beings have a near-inexhaustible appetite for a good love story.
The romantic comedy is one of the oldest genres in existence. One of the most common complaints about Hollywood movies is that, in their bid appeal to the broadest audience possible, filmmakers will shoehorn a love story into a film that doesn’t seem to need one. But this ubiquity means that doing a romantic tale well in this day and age is perhaps trickier than in times past. To say nothing of the cynical age in which we live, the tropes of the genre are just so ingrained in the collective consciousness that it’s hard to avoid triteness. Enter Midsummer, a Scottish “play with music” now playing at the Greenhouse Theater Center.
Intentionally evoking indie films like Once, Midsummer is the account of a debauched midsummer weekend in Edinburgh kicked off by a one-night stand between straight-laced divorce lawyer Helena (Chaon Cross) and underachieving petty criminal Bob (Patrick Mulvey). Over the course of the weekend, the pair confront insecurities, reveal secrets and doggedly deny their growing attraction to one another.
What sounds like a rather twee love story when reduced down to its base elements, it absolutely shines in execution thanks to a whip-smart script by David Grieg, slickly staged by Randy White. The program notes really emphasize the impressiveness of the latter’s work, as Grieg’s original script provides neither stage directions nor dialogue tags. Indeed, a quick Googling of previous productions of the script reveals that even the two-person cast of Greenhouse’s iteration is not necessarily prescribed by the text.
The decision to stage the play as a two-hander throws a great deal of light on the psychological nature of the script. In a move that undeniably takes some getting used to, the script is about half realism in which Helena and Bob interact and speak to one another and half fourth-wall breaking narration, in which their actions and thoughts are exposited in the third person. It’s a tribute to the performers’ chops that they are able to smoothly navigate the transition between the two performance styles while maintaining characterization and dramatic through-line. The effect is to highlight each character’s neurosis and intense feelings of isolation.
Rather than the traditional musical form, Midsummer bills itself as a “play with music,” which seems an apt description. Gordon McIntyre’s indie folk score serves more as thematic highlight and scenic transition than any kind of showstopper. The songs are pleasant and unobtrusive, but this does occasionally lead one to wonder whether it’s entirely necessary to the play. While perfectly good musicians, Cross and Mulvey’s dramatic performances are so on point that the addition of musical interludes seems a little like a hat-on-a-hat. Furthermore, the stripped-down coffee shop instrumentation makes the music too understated to be considered spectacle, as it is in the stage adaptation of the aforementioned Once.
This minor quibble aside, the undeniable fact is that Greenhouse’s Midsummer is a poignant, endearing, and darkly hilarious night at the theatre. Not to mention that, with its 90-minute, no intermission runtime, it’s perfectly constructed to be the centerpiece for date night.
The Greenhouse Theater Center presents Midsummer through October 6. Tickets are available at https://www.greenhousetheater.org/