‘Mad Love’ at NJRep continues thru Nov. 20

Alex Trow and Graham Techler in "Mad Love" at New Jersey Repertory Theater, Long Branch, NJ
Alex Trow and Graham Techler in “Mad Love” at New Jersey Repertory Theater, Long Branch, NJ

“Mad Love,” a romantic comedy for cynical times, according to its subtitle, is about people trying to connect — first intimately, then socially.

One could say it’s usually better to get to know a person before you jump into bed with them, but that’s not the way things always work in these modern times.

This four-character, 90-minute play is by Marisa Smith,  whose “Saving Kitty” was staged in 2013 at the New Jersey Repertory theater in Long Branch, NJ, is directed by Evan Bergman.

It features Sloane (Alex Trow), a thin, sophisticated well-dressed conflicted woman who works for her wealthy father, seems to have lots of free time, and has been — seeing, dating, hooking-up — with down-to-earth mild-manner public school teacher Brandon (Graham Techler).

We meet them in the play’s opening scene on a dinner date where Sloane gets right to the point — she wants Brandon’s sperm so she can have a baby before she’s 30 because she will be young enough for her body to bounce back quickly. Her project’s goal: still look good in a bikini.

Oooooookay. Although they have been sleeping together, their relationship seems to be in its early stages and Brandon is somewhat taken aback.

Sloane assures him he has no obligations. She just wants to stockpile his baby-making fluids in a sperm bank so she can choose the time. And she will pay him for services rendered.

No emotions. Just business. It’s a very short date. They don’t even get to drink their cocktails.

Brandon says no. Sloane won’t take no for an answer and becomes stalker-like showing up at his apartment (where she’s never been before) with a garment bag and a you-can’t-say-no invitation to a fashion show. She shows up in his classroom, after talking her way into his school.

“We broke up,” he tells her. “No we didn’t,” she responds with a smile. Her fixation gets a little creepy.

But not to worry. We have Bandon’s brother Doug (Jared Michael Delaney) to lighten things up. He’s recovering from a traumatic brain injury sustained when he jumped out of his Cornell University dorm window, bounced off a stack of mattresses and smashed into a tree. (You’d think once Sloane heard that she’d re-think the request for his brother’s sperm).

The brothers live together in a small apartment, along with a lizard named Pogo, that isn’t that far removed from a dorm room. Woman’s panties decorate the walls (although in this women-free zone it’s unclear whose they could be) and the mini-fridge is stocked only with light beer. Doug spends his days dressed like a slob playing “World of Warcraft.”

Jared Michael Delaney and Brittany Proia  in "Mad Love" at New Jersey Repertory Theater, Long Branch, NJ
Jared Michael Delaney and Brittany Proia in “Mad Love” at New Jersey Repertory Theater, Long Branch, NJ

Doug’s birthday is coming up and he’d like his brother to get him a date. Enter Katerina (Brittany Proia), a Ukranian (not Russian) hooker.

Then there’s Napoléon “Nap” Lajoie. He’s not a character. He’s an American professional baseball second baseman and player-manager and Doug has his baseball card,  which he believes is worth a fortune. Katerina has a cousin who knows about such things. What a coincidence! He hands it over to her.

Everything essentially gets sorted out, kind of. We learn a few things more about Sloane, like she had a bad experience while a student at Cornell and her mother was married four times. But we still don’t know enough about her and Brandon to be really invested in them. What makes them tick? Both are underdeveloped. Doug, however, is an open book. What you see is what you get. And Katerina is there to move Doug forward during a short play.

Super kudos to the very impressive set design by Jessica Parks that evokes Manhattan’s sky scraper skyline against a dark blue night sky painted on scenery hugging three sides of the stage. The stage itself is empty. Descriptive life words  — school, bills, pizza, video games, commitment, fatigue, accident, fraternity house — are written in DayGlo on the scenery forming bright vertical and horizontal lines.

Acting spaces are created by Doug pulling the sections of scenery away from the walls and adding a few pieces of furniture — school desks, easy chairs.

Jill Nagle’s lighting design enhanced the effect perfectly. Technical director is Brian Snyder, sound design is by Merek Royce Press, costumes by Patricia E. Doherty and Jennifer Tardibuono is the stage manager.

By Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

“Mad Love” continues through Nov. 20 at the 

New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. Performances are Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 20. Tickets are $45 and available by calling 732-229-3166 or visiting www.njrep.com.