Set Up at Theatrebam Chicago: Theater review
Dan Noonan's new romcom is at its best when it pushes back against genre expectations.
Playwright Dan Noonan's new comedy follows Cheryl, a neurotic neurologist, and Ted, an avuncular lawyer, as they're pushed into a blind date that neither has the energy for. Over a 90-minute dinner, the pair humorously struggle to connect while poorly disguising the emotional baggage that's brought them to the table in middle age.
Stephanie Sullivan and Peter Civetta deliver warm and grounded performances that breathe life into the laughter. As written, Cheryl has too many contradictions and personalities, but Sullivan holds them together; Ted suffers a lack of depth and surprises, but Civetta feels familiar and interesting. Amusing romcom tropes are intertwined with more awkward, personal issues that attempt to portray a different kind of romance—one where the principals may not belong together, but still need each other.
As things stand right now, Set Up will appeal to people who really love cheese platters, but only when the fare is limited to domestic cheddar and blue. The scales of this play are out of balance on many fronts, and it never quite feels special. It doesn't roll with ease; topics pitch in and out of focus. Many one-liners evoke plenty of laughsbut divert attention from the story. Cheryl’s dialogue tends to overwhelm poor Ted, and a few political jokes are particularly heavy-handed and one-sided; they’ll work in Chicago, but not in Houston.
What's most engaging is Set Up’s concept: two lovable, rather broken individuals who could never be a couple finding something like romance, if only over dinner. Frustratingly, Noonan doesn't commit completely to this purpose. Individual moments, details and exchanges hit the sweet spot of smart, simple and emotional, but then the play falls back into romcom generalities. Still, at its core is a strong conceit with two excellent protagonists and natural, funny dialogue. The piece would do well to concern itself less with its genre, and focus more on the unique, oddly funny story it is.