(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
Book buyers spend an estimated $1.08 billion dollars each year purchasing romance novels. Since 1972 when Avon printed Kathleen Woodiwiss’s “The Flame And The Flower,” supposedly the first U.S. published book of that genre, almost 55% of all paperbacks sold in the U.S. have centered on romantic relationships with optimistic endings, whose covers usually feature a handsome buff man saving a helpless woman. These types of stories also dominate E-book downloads.
The main plot of a romance novel usually revolves around two people as they develop a love for each other and work on developing a relationship. In general, these writings reward characters who are good people and penalize those who are evil.
Who reads these books with such titles as “Dancing on Coals,” “Playing it Close,” “Chained,” “Hearts of Paradise,” “The Flirting Games,” “Utterly Sluttily,” and “Pale Stranger?” They are mostly consumed by females (84%), aged 30-54.
Local playwright Mike Geither has built on the interest in romance novels by writing TEAR IT OFF, a “romantic novel” within a “romantic play.” Part true formulaic page burner, part melodramatic farce, the script is now being produced by convergence-continuum.
Beth, a widow, and Bridget, her younger sister, are two ladies with obviously too much time on their hands. They fill their hours adlibbing tales of adventurous lovers, scorned lovers, scarred lovers, reunited lovers, secret lovers, sudden lovers, royal lovers, jilted lovers, and, eventually, a real lover.
The duo records their actions and words as they act out the stories.
Into their lives comes, Charles, a mechanic and jack of all trades. Of course, Charles has a back story centering on his younger brother, Tim, who has recently been released from jail. So, all the elements of the romance novel are set…two lustful ladies, an eligible male, and a bad guy.
As the tale proceeds, we find out that Charles writes children’s novels. Wow…he can join the ladies in crafting their book. Of course, in the process of acting out the scenes, Charles is continually required to take off his shirt. Tim, as per the format of these books, does a bad deed—he steals a family heirloom coin–is caught, and repents. In the meantime, both ladies lust for Charles, he beds one. Therefore, there is another conflict, as per genre requirements. You get the point.
TEAR IT OFF proficiently directed by Karin Randoja. She has a nice sense of comic timing and the overly-dramatic. The laughs roll along, the overblown characters are well developed, and the whole thing works well.
Lucy Bredeson-Smith, her big saucer eyes gleaming, makes Beth into a willing participant in the over-exaggerated tale. Lauren B. Smith, with her dyed red hair shining, develops nicely into a lustful vixen.
Though he lacks the stud body or sultry looks of the stereotype romance novel leading man, Terrence Cranendonk is excellent as Charles. (Maybe Randoja cast him because he doesn’t fit the mold, thus making the whole thing even more ludicrous.) Beau Reinker makes for a believable slick con artist and, as the sound designer, adds some great effects to enhance the slight setting.
Capsule Judgement: TEAR IT OFF is no great theatrical script, but the premise and the way it is developed makes for a fun evening of theatre, resulting in a get-away from the “real world,” where goings-on are a little less formulaic.
TEAR IT OFF runs through September 5, 2015 at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.
Next up at con-con is the regional premiere of THE HAPPY SAD, a comedy with songs, by Ken Urban.