SAN DIEGO — May-September romance is the subject of Stephen Metcalfe's new "Loves & Hours." It's a phenomenon with considerable comic potential, much of which Metcalfe milks.
Despite its audience friendliness, however, Metcalfe's play feels no more substantial than the romances it depicts. Approaching three hours in length, "Loves & Hours" is too long to be a souffle yet too light to be a feast.
Director Jack O'Brien is giving the play a shiny premiere at the Old Globe Theatre, with plenty of expertly timed laughs. Much of the shine and many of the laughs come from the effortlessly affable central performance of Brian Kerwin as Dan, a San Diego veterinarian in his late 40s.
In the wake of his recent divorce from Linda (Nance Williamson), who has chosen a lesbian relationship, Dan initially professes no interest in romance. But other characters and the playwright quickly dismiss Dan's stated apathy and begin fixing him up. Soon, two women are vying for his attention.
Anne (Monique Fowler) is an antiques dealer who is Dan's age. Charlotte (Bridget Flanery) is a 25-year-old would-be rock star with a day job as an IRS agent auditing Dan's taxes. She surely violates IRS policy by seducing Dan, though no one notices. She was once a cheerleading colleague of his daughter.
If you can't guess which woman is sexually stimulating to Dan -- and which gives him a comfier feeling of companionship, despite an awful first date -- you obviously haven't seen many Woody Allen movies or read many Dear Abby columns.
Dan is hardly the only one whose eye wanders outside his own generation. His son Dan Jr. (Brian Ibsen), still an undergraduate, strikes up a fling with an ex-neighbor (Amanda Naughton) who's in her 40s and who's ignored by her husband (Tom Tammi). Dan's daughter (Emmelyn Thayer) loves an older man.
The play begins at the wedding of Dan's best friend, Harold (David Manis) and 24-year-old Andrea (Nanka Sturgis). Their marriage fits the usual stereotypes about cross-generational matches. She's a gold-digger who transforms her new husband into a fitness fanatic. But when they choose videos to rent, she can't move beyond "Pretty Woman" -- an inside joke, because Metcalfe was a rewriter of that movie.
One of the above matches actually survives. It's no surprise, however, that the Harold-Andrea match doesn't. Metcalfe suggests that Harold may later get together with Dan's acerbic, never-married sister (Maureen Silliman), who disdains him. This feels like a playwright's contrivance, not like life.
Not that Metcalfe aims for naturalism. A few of the jokes -- for example, one in which an onstage dog wears a lampshade -- feel completely artificial.
Dan repeatedly breaks the fourth wall to narrate. It helps keep the audience's sympathies with him -- even as he utters the cliched "You want to make God laugh? Tell him you have plans."
The characters occasionally gather for rounds of artfully posed one-liners spoken directly to the audience. During these moments, they appear ready to break into song. But this is no musical. It might be better if it were, for the music might redeem some of the platitudes.
Screens glide on and off the stage, often providing surfaces for projections that help establish the locales. One of the funnier projections shows Dan trying to choose his clothes for his first date with Charlotte -- but the image on the screen looks oddly unlike Kerwin.
Maybe "Loves & Hours" can probe deeper in rewrites, if Metcalfe can come up with a fresher take on his well-worn subject.
'Loves & Hours'
Where: Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.
Ends: May 3
Contact: (619) 239-2255
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Brian Ibsen...Dan Jr.
By Stephen Metcalfe. Directed by Jack O'Brien. Sets and costumes by Robert Morgan. Lighting by David F. Segal. Music by Bob James. Sound by Paul Peterson. Projections by Sage Marie Carter. Stage manager D. Adams