Life can be dull or repetitive and it makes you numb to your own desires. Then one day someone pops up and encourages you to walk on the other side of the street for a while and suddenly the world is new again. At least that’s the plot of some of the best romantic comedies out there, and Crossing Delancey is no different.
Izzy (Koren Chambers) is a woman of the new generation, happy in her work, happy in her friendships, and happy single. Her Bubbie (Val Farrow) just doesn’t believe that a beautiful young woman wouldn’t be in want of a husband so she hires the local marriage broker Hannah (Christianne Brawley) to find someone suitable for her granddaughter. Up pops Sam (Mark Stokes), a man with simple needs and a humble outward appearance that pales in comparison to Izzy’s fantasy relationship with author extraordinaire Tyler (Haki Pepo Olu Crisden), who she imagines would love to sweep her off her feet if he could just remember her name. As Izzy gets to know Sam, though, she learns the classic lesson to not judge a book by its cover because everything she’s ever wanted might be right across the street.
Director Lyn Lee saw the sweetness in Susan Sandler’s 1980s rom-com script, a story straight out of the heyday of New York City romance (think You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, or that momentous first meeting in Sleepless in Seattle). Her direction brought the nostalgia for that era of love stories alive with strong New York accents and hints of humorous drama in Izzy imagining a debonair Tyler falling in love with her while stage hand Terry Neenan used a hairdryer to give her flowing, wind-tussled locks like the cover of a Mills & Boon novel. These two approaches of realism in the characterisation and comical exaggeration in the fantasy were the strongest elements of Lee’s direction as the overall pacing of the production dragged the story out a bit too far. Without transition music or background sound during the scenes from sound designer Kim Jones and with a lingering pace to the dialogue, the production lost the snappy, city-never-sleeps atmosphere that would have tightened the story and heightened the humour.
Other elements of the design and the performances were engaging, though. The set design by David Pointon and Pauline Randall cleverly and artistically rendered Bubbie’s east side home and Izzy’s up town bookstore with a dramatic broken brick edge dividing them, while also using the depth of the stage to create a shallow front walkway that converted to a neighbourhood bench and intimate bar booth as necessary. Roger Hind and Ruth Lowry’s lighting design included the use of a spotlight to isolate Izzy’s direct-to-audience address and to highlight her as the central heroine of the story. Then the costuming from Leone Sharp provided another realistic nod to the 80s with Izzy in a floral and lace dress, Hannah done up in a number of bright ensembles, and Tyler even sporting a chain necklace and black turtleneck combination like all good studs did.
Across the board, the performances from the cast were strong and created a genuine sense of community between the various Jewish New York characters. Chambers’s portrayal of Izzy was balanced between headstrong and a bit goofy, which endeared her as a romance heroine who doesn’t lose her personality for a man. Her dynamic with Farrow as Izzy’s Bubbie was relaxed and warm even with Farrow’s well-timed barbs and back-handed compliments. Similarly, Chambers and Stokes had a believable chemistry helped by Stokes’s sweet and gentle but persistent demeanour. Crisden played the slow reveal of Tyler’s sleazy true character well while Brawley laid Hannah all out on the table for a very humorous characterisation of a woman who knows her business.
Like Lee mentioned in her director’s note, Crossing Delancey offers some light relief from the real world with a return to a time when romance stories were at their peak. Perhaps as things continue to spiral we’ll see a new generation of Izzys and Sams gracing our stages and screens with stories of love once again triumphing.
Crossing Delancey is running at the Guild Theatre from August 12th – September 10th
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