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EXPLORING LOVE John Kolvenbach’s play is in solid hands.

Beane (Chris Curtis) is a kooky, moody recluse, who peers through peepholes, lives alone, and eats all his meals out of one tin cup. Despite the overtures of his supremely high-strung micro-manager of a sister, Joan (Christine Penney), and her laconic husband Harry (Andrew Fling), Beane has remained a monk of his own odd spirit. So it's a bombshell when he announces that he's in love, and with a woman who burgled his apartment, no less. Beane's romantic vicissitudes have profound effects on Joan and Harry, too, in the sharp-edged romantic comedy Love Song, by John Kolvenbach, in a highly recommended production by Harbor Light Stage, in Portsmouth. The excellent Kent Stephens directs a scintillating cast in the brand new, very chic Music Hall Loft.

Those familiar with the sublimely renovated Music Hall will not be surprised to hear that its new affiliated Loft is a gorgeously designed space offering numerous pleasures: It is sleek, modern, and stocked with a full bar and a selection of victuals you can bring to your seats in its intimate theater, which provide plenty of leg room and even a shelf for your drink. For Love Song, its stage is backed with a line of off-white, mismatched doors, an apt visual metaphor for the limits and potentials of love. Stage left is Joan and Harry's apartment, comfortable and flanked by a rack of liquor; stage right is Beane's sparsely furnished apartment, where he is visited by the fierce and mysterious Molly (Amy McDonald, a visiting Equity actor), who never goes in or out by the door, and who dresses herself in clothes that match his own.

Seacoast area actors Curtis, Fling, and Penney have acted their roles together before, in Harbor Light's 2010 Bold Face Play Reading, and it shows in their fluidity, cohesion, and spirit on stage. Fling and Penney (who are real-life partners, too) handle Harry and Joan's careening histrionics and sarcasm entertainingly and with high aplomb, but without turning them into unsympathetic types. As Beane, Curtis's wistful, sad-sack frame occupies early scenes like a love-child of Beckett and Charlie Kaufman, quirkily tragic, but is transformed to a startlingly joyful expansiveness by Molly, who in McDonald's hands is cunningly magnetic. In their scenes together in his apartment, Beane and Molly share an attraction at once as pure and as volatile as the elements.

Beane's closeness with his sister, and his influence on her, are subtler, and grow ever more evident over the course of the play. From the agitated, self-absorbed Joan of the early scenes, Penney draws an arc of a woman who becomes strikingly susceptible to Beane's exaltations. Part of what makes her portrayal so convincing is that her Joan doesn't so much change as a character as slowly amplify traits that were discernable, if beleaguered, all along. She finds herself seeking the same emotional fulfillment in her own marriage, with comic and rapturous results: In a supremely funny, lovely scene, she and Harry uncharacteristically call in sick, lie around in their robes all morning play-acting at various hooky debaucheries, and finally, affectingly, reach for each other.

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ARTICLES BY MEGAN GRUMBLING
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