If the measure of a good play is its ability to evoke emotion, then Love Waits is a stunning success. The play's teeny opening-night audience (I was joined by five patrons and an AriZoni adjudicator, one of those poor souls charged with judging plays for a dubious local theater awards program) wept noisily during the show's final minutes. Even members of the cast, wedged into On the Spot Theater's wee dressing room behind the back row, could be heard sniffling and blowing their noses.
But there are reasons, other than those moments calculated to tug at our heartstrings, to be sad about Terry Earp's new play. Love Waits is both underacted and overwritten, its summit swathed in a cloying cleverness. I wanted to like Earp's play, which provides an entertaining if slightly hokey story, but I was too often distracted by flaccid dialogue and inadequate acting to get lost in this warmhearted yarn.
The plot is sort of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir meets Abie's Irish Rose. Lovers Emma and James arrive, his mother Kate in tow, at an abandoned cottage in Achill Beg, Ireland, where they've been inexplicably drawn. The house is haunted by the ghost of Thomas Gallagher, who's still waiting for his wife, Annie Rose, to return to him. Seems she left him in 1902 to climb a mountain and never returned. In short order, Kate (who just happens to be a hypnotherapist) has put Emma under, and huzzah! It turns out that Emma is the reincarnation of Annie Rose, Kate was Thomas' mother in a past life, and James was formerly Thomas' best friend, Michael. Everyone changes costumes and wigs and begins speaking with a burr as the story shifts to Thomas and Annie Rose, whose love transcends both time and the need for physical form.
Kindhearted people and fans of past-life regression will likely forgive lines like "Relationships are haunted by many things!" and "Logic and love are two different things," but I cannot. Earp introduces the paranormal without precedent, so that Kate's observations that Emma has "come here to heal her soul" and her sense that "this spirit is the reason we've been drawn here" sound like so much psychobabble. And why, moments after they watch household objects float through the air, do the principals seem unfazed?
Act One doesn't end, it merely stops, after 20 minutes full of awkward exposition and cheesy hypnotic suggestion. From there on, the mostly competent cast displays its transient brogues in a full hour of references to "the wee people" and endless prayers to St. Bridget. It's all very Irish, but not all of it is very good.
Despite Kate's insistence that "energy cannot be destroyed," the woman portraying her proves differently. Judy Dillon's eye rolling is her single pretense at acting; she is otherwise lifeless in her interpretations of two very dynamic women. Gina Tlull, hidden under an ugly pile of Dynel ringlets, has some moments as bonnie bride Annie Rose, and manages to make lines like "What if barren I am?" sound sensible.
But only Chris Hyslop, as the dead fellow, gives a consistently meaningful performance. He plays both dark and light scenes with equal ease, and even his drunk bit -- always a tough call, even for a seasoned actor -- is dynamic and believable.
Despite its rough edges, Earp is onto something here and, with a lot of trimming, some new dialogue and a veteran cast, she might have a hit with Love Waits. In the meantime, this three-hankie haunted-house story will please folks who don't care about extraneous dialogue, and theatergoers who just want a good cry.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Phoenix art and theater scene.