Although romantic comedies tend to follow the same basic formula – boy meets girl, boy loses girl (or can’t have her because she’s taken), boy gets girl in the end – it’s a nice departure when the dramatic overlay for the story offers up fodder for interesting conversation.
"Now Then Again," produced by Penfold Theatre Company and playing through October 12th at the Trinity Street Theater downtown, covers its rom-com skeleton with an overlay of time travel and reflections on the nature of the universe. Even for those of us unfamiliar with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the show’s combination of physics with a light sprinkling of feminism proves more thought provoking than one can usually expect from whimsical love stories.
The show seems like a sort of hybrid love child born of the popular CBS sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory," and the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow movie, "Sliding Doors." Two physicists collide (at least in one version of reality), and their possible future/past stories unfold in opposite directions. We watch scenes as they play forward in the first act, then we get to see an alternate reality unwind back through time in the second half.
As with most stories involving time travel (even only the theoretical kind), the plot points get a bit drafty under too much scrutiny. But Penny Penniston’s script dishes out a lot of pithy one-liners that keep the show entertaining.
Nathan Jerkins (Henry) is hilarious as the play’s male lead: an awkward grad student physicist with a profound fear of public speaking. Dennis Pratt is similarly delightful as Henry’s only friend, a befuddled janitor who seems to be thinking in alternate dimensions.
Megan Rabuse plays the love interest (Ginny), an undergraduate physics intern with bright ideas and a handsome fiancé. Supposedly a small town girl from South Carolina, Rabuse’s unaccented performance results in a jarring contrast with her husband’s (Matthew Worthington) thick Southern charm. It proves hard to believe the two have been together since grade school, a revelation that comes in the second act.
The first act ends up feeling rather long, particularly as we watch an alternate version replay itself in the second half, but overall the show is entertaining and the production quality is excellent. The novelty of the play’s structure and plot save it from being saccharine and leave you with something to think about.
"Now Then Again" continues through Oct. 12. www.penfoldtheatre.org.