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Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: 'Mad Love' with terrific cast at NJ Rep in Long Branch

MAD LOVE by Marisa Smith
reviewed by Michael T. Mooney
on October 22, 2016 at 8pm
at NJ Rep, Long Branch

If you're a person who knows that WoW stands for World of Warcraft (and not just the acronym for a local gym), you should book tickets for MAD LOVE, Marisa Smith's new romantic comedy now on stage at NJ Repertory Company. The video game generation, which first appeared on the cultural landscape during the 1980s, has finally found its way to the theatre world, having already influenced virtually every other form of media. Earlier this year the Netflix TV series “Stranger Things” also appealed to grown-up gamers. Stranger still, the series also found fans with those who have never picked up a joystick, something MAD LOVE magically manages to do as well.

Alex Trow
The madness of MAD LOVE encompasses both the wrath of lovers scorned, as well as the craziness that love often brings out in us. Here wealthy Ivy Leaguer Sloane (Alex Trow) is dating middle-class middle school teacher Brandon (Graham Techler), until her insistence on buying his sperm to be artificially inseminated freaks him out to the point of “taking a break”. But Sloane is undaunted by his rebuke and takes it upon herself to visit Brandon's “man cave” apartment, introducing herself to his brother Doug (Jared Michael Delaney) under a false name. Pretty mad, huh? Also in the mix is a Russian call girl named Katerina (Brittany Proia) who may or may not be the classic “hooker with the heart of gold”. Cabbage soup, a rare baseball card, and a lizard named Pogo all play a part in the ever-maddening game of love that unfolds.

This is Smith's second show on the NJ Rep stage, having also written 2013's SAVING KITTY, which was also staged by MAD LOVE's talented director, Evan Bergman. In fact, the rest of KITTY's creative team (all NJ Rep regulars) are back, too: set designer Jessica Parks, lighting designer Jill Nagle, and costumer Pat Doherty - all at the top of their (video) games. Parks' set is where the show's video game themes are most obviously realized. Think THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME on a shoebox scale: a black light, pixilated cityscape that quickly alternates between a variety of Manhattan locations.

At first, none of the foursome in the story seems particularly likable. In fact, it is nearly an hour into the play's 90 intermission-less minutes before the audience starts to invest in the outcome. But MAD LOVE's terrific cast makes sure you stick with it. This is undoubtedly one of the best ensembles to ever trod the Long Branch boards. 

The persnickety Sloane, who isn't interested in love, marriage, or other people's kids, is in the capable hands of Alex Trow, who is masterful in her portrayal. She should be; she played the role in the play's Vermont world premiere earlier this year.

 Brittany Proia
Just as terrific is Brittany Proia as Katerina, a rent girl who is (as the British say) “on the game.” Proia takes what might be a purely comical character and imbues her with a sensitive, endearing side as well. 

Jared Michael Delaney's Doug is living with a TBI (traumatic brain injury) thanks to a “Jackass”-style stunt back in college. Delaney (photo above left) skillfully navigates the child-like wisdom of this grown up game boy. 

Graham Techler
Anchoring the madness is Graham Techler's Brandon. The trickiest feat of all is to be the audience's touchstone among mad-crazy characters, but Techler manages it with ease. Can four desperately different people find happiness playing the game of love? In Marisa Smith's romantic comedy, it somehow seems possible. After all, “Stranger Things” have happened.


MAD LOVE – A Romantic Comedy for Cynical Times by Marisa Smith is onstage through November 20th at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey. For tickets and information call 732.229.3166 or visit


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