In a time when you can download movies to your cell phone, a retreat into the world of silent film is refreshing. Take Love Is in the Air, the Pig Brooch theater company's quirky staging of a silent movie at the 14th Street Y Theater. An energetic cast of 10 (supported by an orchestra of four) plays out a simple tale of love gone awry against the backdrop of 1920's society. Dustin Helmer plays Hapless Henry, an earnest tramp whose libido follows the elegant and snobbish Aimee LaBlatte (Anna Moore) while his heart should belong to the shy and warm Plain Jane. In the style of Buster Keaton, Harry dashes about the stage in his bowler, avoiding the malevolence of Boffo Mysterioso and Aimee's dapper boyfriend Valentino.
The cause for the hullabaloo is an upcoming New Year's Eve dance, to which Henry hopes to take Aimee. Plain Jane has fallen for Henry in a typically zany love triangle. As Jane, Jennie Smith is sweet in her brown dress and pigeon-toed shoes. The tall and dark Seth Powers has an attractive brooding quality (something like Sawyer on TV's Lost) as Boffo Mysterioso; he brokers a Faustian bargain with Henry, who will go to any length to gain Aimee's affection. And, of course, we know what happens when you sell your soul to the devil.
With a round face and puppy-dog eyes, Helmer wins over your heart as the show's underdog. Petite and blond Anna Moore aptly plays spoiled socialite Aimee, with the best costumes of the bunch: a yellow silk flapper dress for the day, followed by a red beaded number for the New Year's dance.
Overall, the cast is adept and quick, and the high quality of the work begs for equally high production values somewhere Off-Broadway. Helmer created the ambitious piece, and he's well cast as the star in his own show. This production also boasts a fantastic properties manager, who goes unnamed. Giant restaurant menus and baseball-sized diamond rings are some of the creative props employed.
Scene changes are handled by a quartet of clowns billed as Slow Joe, Sleepy Sue, Saucy Seppy, and Stage Manager. The bits are at times entertaining; at other times, tedious. Genevieve Gearhart as Sleepy Sue makes the most of her small role, milking her stage time as best she can.
While the play is almost entirely silent, a ragtime underscore led by pianist Laura Blau keeps the audience's ears perked up. The cast and musicians are all well clad in Prohibition-era attire by Amelia Dombrowski.
Under Paul Peers's direction, the show is both charming and concise, clocking in at under an hour. The concept is muddied, though, by the theater company within a theater company gag. The real Pig Brooch company has concocted the Kiek in de Kök Players, who are the actors, clowns, and musicians from Estonia who decided to make this silent film into a stage play. (Why Estonia? That's never revealed.)
Still, it is interesting to see one genre transformed into another, namely silent film into a stage play. The show doesn't gel entirely, but with lines from the script projected onto the black backdrop and the actors' Chaplin-like pratfalls, Love Is in the Air remains endearing.