by Cate Cammarata · August 29, 2015
Love in the Middle Ages, playing in the 2015 FringeNYC Festival, is set appropriately in a bar. The audience dons nametags to act as participants in the fictitious “Single Mingle” meetup group; a waitress takes your drink order, and everyone is filled with excitement to see what this immersive experience will become.
Unfortunately that is where the immersion ends, for the audience stays as passive a participant as if the production were placed in a typical proscenium. The promise of the nametags is never fulfilled. That doesn’t mean that Love in the Middle Ages isn’t entertaining, it is; and a drink during the performance is always appreciated.
However, the subject matter is a delicate dance between hope and despair, and at the end I’m not sure which side has won. Love at any age is a difficult proposition, and during the dark age of midlife the difficulties are magnified. Writers Eric Kornfield and Jeffrey Jackson create characters that deal with the spectrum of midlife problems: body and aging insecurities, the stresses of children and exes, issues of distrust and hurt, and the ever-present clock whisking us toward our ultimate demise.
We get to know these six characters in search of a relationship pretty well during these approximately 90 minutes, but the cabaret format set in real time is limiting. One issue after another is presented without any real progress or resolution; it begins to feel the search for love is as hopeless as we fear it is, and begin to look for some conclusion that never arrives. The one couple that “succeeds” in developing a potential relationship that evening does so out of despair that anyone else would want them. So much for encouragement.
The performances given by the cast (Mimi Bessette, Gabriela Garcia, Michael Givens, David Konig, David Rappaport and Marci Reid) save the evening. They engage the audience into caring about their characters and their world, and their vocal performances are in top form. Especially entrancing is the segment between Reid and Givens; their unlikely friendship and attraction – one is gay, the other straight – is sensitive and oddly romantic, and their love duet “White Picket Fences” was the highlight of the show.
Love in the Middle Ages may not provide any new insights to those caught in the perilous years of midlife, but the show accurately portrays their range of emotions and fears that audiences of all ages can identify with. A large group of millennials seated across from me hooted and howled during the show, more so than many of their elders. Obviously the subject matter wasn’t a barrier to their enjoyment of the show, nor the purchase of tickets, and I was happy to see many groups of young people at the performance. Humor transcends age, and the show’s creators, largely from the film and television world, definitely know how to write great comedy.
And the drinks definitely helped.