Theater Review - Amour of less: Horizon Theatre's The 13th Of Paris

Horizon Theatre's romantic comedy The 13th of Paris sets up a battle between the modern-day American and classic French conceptions of love, which promises to be a mismatch of David vs. Goliath proportions.

Suave boulevardier Jacques (Mark Kincaid) extols the grand passions and gestures of Gallic romance, while his mixed-up American grandson, Vincent (Chad Martin), helplessly counters with the casual, sexually utilitarian contemporary relationship. Jacques asks if Vincent ever writes love letters to his girlfriend, Annie (Bari Newport), and the younger man replies, "We text each other a lot."

The play finds Vincent in an emotional frazzle, having taken a spontaneous plane trip from his Chicago home to his grandparents' flat in Paris' 13th arrondissement. Despite his happiness with free-spirited Annie, Vincent worries they're destined to devolve into the kind of uncommunicative middle-aged couple you see at restaurants. He hopes to find perspective on love through the trip to Paris, his grandparents' love letters and Jacques' advice, which comes from imaginary conversations – Jacques and his beloved Chloe (Carolyn Cook) died before Vincent was born.

Flashbacks provide a kind of master class in flirtation when Jacques first chats up Chloe in a café. Vincent finds a more questionable pair of romantic role models from Jessica and William (the amusing Katherine LeRoy and Robin Bloodworth), who prove sexually ravenous without seeming to "get" one another.

Playwright Mat Smart (a 2004-05 Alliance Theatre Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition finalist) anchors the play in Vincent's inability to relax and commit, shackling us to a wishy-washy role's petty concerns and lousy behavior. Chad Martin's performance as the emotionally blocked, ironic but inarticulate Vincent proves comparable to Matthew Perry as "Friends'" Chandler Bing, but never makes Vincent's angst particularly compelling.

Characters stand on the furniture during emotional high points – the kind of display you see in the theater about 99 percent more often than you do in real life. Any play with as strong a supporting cast as The 13th of Paris can charm and connect with audiences, but the actors seem to be propping up the script, rather than the script bringing out their best. Horizon Theatre took another trip to Paris in 2002 with Madame Melville, a production that also featured Cook and served a heady brew of nostalgia, sensuality and refined culture. The 13th of Paris, however, seldom achieves the same soufflé-light feeling of ooh-la-la.

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