We’ve all been there: that sad and lonely place that has us searching for someone who can help us grasp something more out of life. That’s probably why romantic comedies are popular, because setting aside the wild antics and hilarity, we can typically relate on some level.
Reina Hardy’s “Stars and Barmen,” playing now through Nov. 16 at The Vortex, superimposes a lofty metaphor (or analogy, or symbol, or something) on top of an otherwise cute romantic comedy.
Rupert (Trey Deason) is a profoundly awkward graduate student studying astrophysics and desperately trying to meet a woman. We’re introduced to him in the midst of a party and get to laugh at his ludicrous attempts at pick up lines. Deason does a lovely job of amplifying the social awkwardness of his character, and his painfully bad dancing is particularly hilarious.
Rupert doesn’t know how to flirt and doesn’t even seem to know how to have fun. After he meets Claire (Bridget Farr) at a party that he’s crashed, Rupert suddenly has a new mission in life: to find her again. Resorting to Craigslist’s missed connections section, Rupert tries over and over to find his dream girl.
The fundamental problem is that Claire is actually a star – in the sky – though you might not catch that unless you’d read the promotional materials. The production doesn’t highlight Claire’s otherworldly qualities, and the script doesn’t explain them very clearly, so this is where the plot remains muddled throughout. It’s unclear how or why Claire appears (particularly in places like bathroom mirrors), or what it’s supposed to mean that she’s a star.
But, because this is a romantic comedy, the Internet does provide Rupert with Elaine (Breanna Stogner) – a similarly desperate and socially awkward writer posing as a prostitute.
For someone living a double life, however, Elaine seems pretty one-dimensional. We meet her in an awkward attempt at seduction, but rather than seeing her alter-ego Gwen, we just get a taste of the same comically hapless character that we see throughout the show. Granted, Stogner is pretty hilarious as the blocked writer, but it’s hard to believe she could fool anyone into giving her a book deal.
In the end, like Elaine’s character, we’re confused by the metaphor of the star that envelops this play. But Deason and Stogner’s comedic timing go a long way to compensate if what you want is a night of laughter and affection.
“Stars and Barmen” continues through Nov. 16 at the Vortex, 2307 Manor Road. $10-$30. www.vortexrep.org