KU student’s ‘Death of Romance’ works both as drama, comedy

“The Death of Romance,” written by KU student Adam Burnett, opened to a sold-out Inge Theatre Thursday evening. The play tells the story of romance-novel writer Linda Wood, whose fictional pair of lovers are onstage most of the time, acting out her plot and dialogue as she composes it at the computer.

Linda’s big problem – other than reliance upon alcohol, codeine and cocaine – is her inability to connect with the real world. Estranged from her father and sister, unable to respond to boyfriend Matthew or would-be lover Pam, she lives in the Paris of her imagination (she’s never been there), with her perennial characters Jacques and Sofia.

The stasis of her life is upset when news arrives of the death of her father, Senator Theo (=God?) Wood. Sister Julie arrives for the funeral, bringing their father’s journal, and as Linda reads in it and discovers her father’s love for her, she must re-examine her belief that she was unloved.

Theo himself – or his ghost – joins the other imaginary characters onstage, speaking the words of his journal as Linda silently reads them. Since he’s really present in Linda’s imagination, she is able to converse with him, argue with him, and grope her way towards reconciliation with him.

But don’t think that it’s all heavy drama, as playwright Burnett has a talent for comedy, too. The bodice-ripping antics of Jacques and Sofia are continually amusing, as is the acerbic dialogue between Linda and her friends. And the set includes a wardrobe into which the imaginary characters are comically shut when she doesn’t want to think about them.

Meg Saricks shines as the brittle Linda, playing her surface cynicism and her deeper anguish so that both are visible throughout the play. Saricks has anatomized the mannerisms Linda uses to keep the world at arm’s length and made them her own second nature. And though her nervous edge maintains the appearance of control, we’re not surprised when she explodes in a torrent of emotion.

Erik LaPointe and Amy Virginia Buchanan are hilarious as Jacques and Sofia, killingly costumed in romance-novel excess: Jacques – artist’s smock, black tights and boots, red sash; Sofia – bustier, long slit skirt, net stockings, garter belt. Their dances, embraces, swoons, vows and renunciations are nicely overdone, providing comic relief even as they remind us of Linda’s distance from reality.

Jenna Bleecker is the earthy lesbian Pam, a worldly wise friend to Linda even though her overtures have always been rejected. Bleecker portrays the character as something of an island of sense, refusing to be caught up in the emotional storms that engage the rest.

Julie, Linda’s straight-arrow older sister replete with religious beliefs, a family and a sense of duty to her father, is starchily played by Lara Thomas. Julie could have walked in straight out of the schoolmarm’s role in any Western, but Thomas grows the character into someone with brass enough to shout, “If anyone ever put their lives in your hands, they’d shoot themselves!”

Matthew Crooks plays Linda’s long-suffering boyfriend Matthew, and makes the pathos of the character’s position painfully clear to the audience.

The role of the Old Man, the sisters’ father Theo, is played to perfection by the redoubtable Ron Willis. He wears the role as easily as the character’s rumpled tweed coat and battered fedora, and commands the stage when he’s on it.

Susanne Kepley is the student director, and the excellence of her work is on display in the close interaction of the cast and the depth of their characters. The play’s entire run is sold out, but it’s worth standing at the box office for no-shows before the performance.