The popular playwright Norm Foster occasionally has been called the “Canadian Neil Simon.” Whether it’s an entirely accurate comparison can be debated, but it’s not too far afield, either. Both write (or in the case of Simon, whose output has dropped off, have written) droll, audience-pleasing comedies.
While Simon’s work has edged into more dramatic slices of life, Foster maintains a lighter touch. Think theatrical comfort food. You know what you’re getting, and it will be immediately satisfying, though perhaps not a deeply profound experience.
Foster’s work has been a pleasing fit for the intimacy of B Street Theatre over the years, as he specializes in clever comedy inspired by recognizable interpersonal situations. The execution isn’t nearly as easy as it looks, though, requiring subtle performances from connected, confident actors who make it seem natural and effortless. That’s how it goes down in B Street’s new production, the two-person romance “Wrong for Each Other,” featuring Melinda Parrett and Kurt Johnson.
“Wrong for Each Other,” which debuted in 1992, is the fourth Foster play produced at B Street. The story moves back and forth through the relationship of Parrett’s Norah Case and Johnson’s Rudy Sorenson. The couple are not quite the opposites the title coyly suggests, but they don’t seem to have that much in common, either.
The play opens with a “chance” meeting three years and nine months after they have broken up – divorced, actually – and there is a charming awkwardness and halting affection between the two. The backstory seamlessly weaves in and out of present and past as Parrett and Johnson deftly slip into flashbacks that bring us through the ups and downs of their meeting, dating and marriage.
Rudy is blue-collar guy, a house painter who wants to own his own business eventually, while Norah is the facilities manager of the local civic center. He’s all about baseball and hockey; she’s into jazz and classical music. From the outset he is pursuing her, and his persistence drives the play. Much of the comedy derives from the characters’ feeble attempts at obscuring the truth from one another before admitting what is obvious.
When they reconnect early in the play, Norah asks Rudy, “Are you seeing anybody?” He replies, “No.” “What’s her name?” Norah asks. “Susan,” he says.
Thanks to Parrett and Johnson, it works more often than not, even when we know what’s coming. The quips and one-liners are a major part of Foster’s charm, but he gives the play some depth as well. There’s a compelling honesty about Rudy and something endearing about Norah’s vulnerability, which makes them watchable and allows us to root for a reconciliation, which may or may not occur.
The young director Lyndsay Burch sets a smooth, easy tone and smartly lets her expert actors handle the heavy lifting.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.