Theater: Labor of Love

Genuine romantic comedies are pretty rare these days. Our 21st century zeitgeist, subjected to a daily acid bath in woeful events, won’t easily accept a love story with a happy ending. If one of the lovers is dying of some dreadful disease, perishes in a useless war, falls victim to drugs or is psychologically crippled by childhood abuse, then maybe … maybe … their emotional attachment will conform to today’s standards of credibility. Otherwise, it’s likely to be dismissed as pure sentimentality, of little or no interest to a battle-hardened, cynical man or woman of today.

That’s the steep mountain that author David Templeton, director Carl Jordan, his cast and others involved in Marin Onstage’s production of Pinky have to climb. While they don’t quite make it to the top when judged purely in terms of theater aesthetics, they get far enough to offer a sweetly satisfying evening’s entertainment without ever becoming maudlin.

Before proceeding to the details, I should offer the required disclaimer. Templeton and I both write for the Pacific Sun—I on a regular basis, and he mainly as a contributor when he isn’t busy with his editorial duties at Petaluma’s Argus Courier and varied freelance work. Before accepting the assignment to review his play, I stipulated that no special favors would be granted, and none were, as will soon be evident.

Pinky is essentially a semi-autobiographical memoir about teenage first love. Place and time are not specified, but a clue about the former is contained in a program note that the Apollo spacecraft was built there. Although a little Google sleuthing revealed that Apollo had various components originating in companies around the country, the most likely candidate seems to be what was once known as North American Aviation, based in the Southern California town of Inglewood. As for time, the significant role given to the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) craze that swept through the teen world suggests the late ’70s to early ’80s.

The show opens with “David” (a rare occasion when an author uses his actual name for a character) describing how he came to believe in love at first sight. He relates how his grandfather met his grandmother in the factory cafeteria where she was cashiering, impressed her with a $5 bill (she gave him 99 nickels as change for his $.05 lunch), kept going back to ask for the same change to win her attention, married her soon thereafter and remained with her for 45 years. David met “Pinky”—a real nickname derived from the pink notebook that she used to jot down her thoughts—in a bowling alley. But it was while playing D&D that the teens quickly discovered that they shared a strong interest in the game and in Jean Cocteau’s classic film, Beauty and the Beast.

What they didn’t share was David’s unquestioned conviction that this was a case of love at first sight. Pinky saw herself as a princess, awaiting the arrival of ‘Prince Charming,’ and this young fellow didn’t exactly fit the bill. She liked him, true, but not in that way, and before long—despite comic efforts to turn himself into a dragon-slaying prince—David heard Pinky utter the dreadful words from Beauty and the Beast: “Let us be friends, Beast. Do not ask me for more.”

Crushing though that must have been, David (the author, not the character) describes their relationship with gentle humor and not even the slightest touch of acrimony.

Jeffrey Weissman (alternating at certain performances with Larry Williams) provides a sympathetic portrait of young David, and Melissa Claire is similarly effective as Pinky. In both cases, the actors are called upon to present the various people who make up their world, which they do with refreshing energy. Jordan’s direction moves the action along at a sprightly pace and the production, including its atmospheric rear wall projections, has a polished feel not often found in these low-budget efforts.

On the negative side, never having participated in D&D, I was left scratching my head over the lengthy references. Other audience members might wonder why there is no mention of the drugs and sex prevalent among teens in the ’70s. Simply stated, Pinky isn’t that kind of play.

NOW PLAYING: Pinky runs on Friday, Nov. 10 and Fri. Nov. 17, 8pm, and on Saturday, Nov. 11 and Sat., Nov. 18 at 2pm and 8pm; The Belrose Theatre, 1415 Fifth Ave., San Rafael; 415/448-6152; marinonstage.org.