If An Entomologist’s Love Story sounds an unusual title, try the play itself! The world premiere of a new work by Melissa Ross has just opened at the San Francisco Playhouse, and delivers an intriguing combination of comedy, cynicism, bravado and snappy put-downs – with a touch of poignancy thrown in for good measure.
Ross has not only done her research on a number of types of insect (as an intern at the New York City Museum of Natural Science), but she also draws some interesting parallels between the characteristics displayed by these creatures and the tangled web of human relationships.
Jeff (Lucas Verbrugghe) and Betty (Lori Prince) – both in their mid-thirties – have been friends for a long time, and have also worked together in a laboratory at the Museum for a number of years. Betty delivers lectures on the mating rituals of various species of bugs and flying insects – which she does with biting cynicism, natural wit and brilliance – but she’s discontented with her life, disillusioned in her pursuit of love, and has the ability to turn on Jeff as quickly and with as much vitriol as certain female insects do to their male counterparts following the mating process.
Jeff is everybody’s nice guy – good-humored, patient, easy-going and fun-loving. He puts up with Betty’s barbs and outbursts – as he’s probably done all the time he’s known her – but he’s not too nice to give her some of her own medicine when she drives him too far. He, too, has been unsuccessful in finding a partner, but that hasn’t turned him into the prickly, bitter and resentful human specimen that Betty has become.
His life takes an unexpected turn for the better, however, when Lindsay (Jessica Lynn Carroll) visits the laboratory to inquire about a bug which has inflicted a number of bites on her, and it’s not long before we find out why Betty treats Jeff as she does. Witnessing the vicious tirade to which she subjects Jeff in her uncontrollable fit of jealousy is not unlike the astonishing sight of a female praying mantis devouring her mate following the act of copulation!
And yet, you can’t help feeling a degree of sympathy for her – you really want her to realize what she’s doing to herself – but even as she manages to attract the attention of Andy – a decent, cheerful and obviously caring man (Will Springhorn Jr) – her brilliant but cynical mind tends to overshadow whatever nuggets of humanity might lurk deep within her character.
An Entomologist’s Love Story is well worth seeing – both for its entertainment value and its interesting social commentary. The four players – Lori Prince, Lucas Verbrugghe, Jessica Lynn Carroll and Will Springhorn Jr – are quite superb. They sweep the audience along in the series of humorous – and hapless – events which Melissa Ross has created for them, with great skill and professionalism, under the guidance of director Giovanna Sardelli – who also has an impressive portfolio of productions to her name, the most recent of which include two by Rajiv Joseph (author of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo which audiences might recall having seen at the San Francisco Playhouse).
The set and scenic design are as creative as they always are at the Playhouse, swinging smoothly from the Museum’s laboratory to the steps outside, and to a local park – and special mention must be made of the stunning video projections against which Betty presents her lectures.
Playhouse directors, Bill English and Susi Damilano, have once again picked a winner!
An Entomologist’s Love Story runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until June 23rd. For more information and tickets, visit the Playhouse website.
Photographs by Jessica Palopoli