NOT JUST ANOTHER FACE IN THE CROWD

"They are the exact same color as my eyes. How impressive is that?" says no-nonsense businesswoman Ellen (a skilled and nuanced Esther Barlow) as she delights in a pair of earrings gifted to her by an anonymous suitor. "I am going to marry this person one day - I swear to God." Such is the tenuous conceit on which hinges this sometimes quite funny play executed by a thoroughly likeable cast. Can Jenny, the beautiful and seemingly ditzy lesbian lawyer-to-be (energetically played by Jennifer Laine Williams) win over workaholic Ellen by playing secret admirer? Can she get Ellen to see that she is the right "human" for her and not the right man she expected?

To the cast’s credit, they wring a great deal indeed from this questionable plot with the sheer exuberance of young actors who like to entertain and give themselves over fully to the job. It helps that the script is peppered with good one-liners.

Smitten Jenny is aided in her Cyrano-like pursuit by Ellen’s close confidante and gift-planting officemate Peter (Philip Graeme). Peter’s family seems to weigh heavily on his mind and impinge upon his daily life. Between a dotty cat-loving sister (camped up by playwright and actress Kate Hewlett) engaged to a witheringly shy boyfriend (Dustin Olson), and a lousy relationship with his cold and homophobic father, it’s a wonder Peter has time for his boyfriend of the same name (and numerous name-gags) Peter.

But, as Ellen’s romance in absentia blossoms (devoid of any connection to sparked real-life encounters with dreaded Jenny-of-the-Coffee-Shop), Peter must ask her if she is finally ready to surrender her rigidity and face her fears.

Fear is a topic discussed at length in the play. All of the characters are introduced (and brought back for intermittent monologues) via a 12-step meeting device -- where they confess their deepest fears (dogs, cats, infertility, being alone forever...with cats)to the audience. This technique is partially effective (and even, at one point, quite startling) yet can occasionally feel contrived.

Director Robin A. Paterson uses the stage well, as scenes shift easily from Ellen's office, the local coffee shop, and the 12-step style meeting of which the audience is a part.

For all the perpetual chatter about deep-seated fears, one might expect Humans Anonymous to be heavier and more probing than it actually is. The play is not a serious opus on the fear of homosexuality, and although it touches lightly on that nerve, lightly -- as in lighthearted fun --is the operative word.

Humans Anonymous succeeds mainly on the strength of the chemistry and timing of Williams & Barlow (both fine actresses) and the playwright’s sense of humor, which periodically bubbles over the top. It’s a good choice for a young crowd looking for an enjoyable night out at the theater.

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