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A CurtainUp Review
First Love

I forgot how to seize the moment. — Edith
first love
Michael O'Keefe, Angelina Fiordellisi
Charles Mee's 2001 play First Love now in revival at the Cherry Lane Theatre, will elicit from theatergoers either a smile or a shrug. But, like it or not, it's an intriguing 180-degree turn from the conventional romantic comedy where the principals are young, svelte-looking, and have no life baggage.

we first meet Harold (Michael O'Keefe) and Edith (Angelina Fiordellisi), who are in their 60s as he lies napping on a park bench as Edith arrives and asks him to "shove up." He does so grudgingly. The unruffled Edith sits down beside him, rummages through her stuff, takes out a small flask and him some "sherry." Although reluctant at first, Harold surrenders and takes a nip

. Perhaps it's a stretch to associate Edith's kind act with Eve's offering the apple to Adam in Genesis, but following the sherry episode Harold and Edith do begin to see each other as man and woman. What Harold originally found unsavory in Edith's personality now seems to delineate her unique chararacter as a female. What's more, he finds himself falling madly in love with this person who randomly walked into his life and pushed him out of his comfort zone. And so, during the next 85 minutes the couple unpacks their life's baggage, and experience the delights and danger of love.

A third witnesses to Harold and Edith's weird romantic journey together is a young woman (Taylor Harvey) who magically glides in and out of the action and assumes different personas. Whether she is supposed to symbolize their past youth or is a Cupid figure, she is alternately silent, outspoken, or unbearably opinionated. Case in point: Harold refuses to eat a raspberry tart that she serves him in a café. But she soon shames him into eating it, preaching that he shouldn't be in a "snit" when some people in the world are starving.

the current iteration is directed by Kim Weild, and hS Michael O'Keefe and Angelina Fiordellisi ably performing the parts of the rambunctious older lovers. As before, Mee's romance tackles the issue of age-ism head on, and resonates with the post-Woodstock zeitgeist.

To complement the surrealistic qualities embedded in this play, Edward Pierce has designed a fanciful set, assisted by Paul Miller's poetic lighting. Without using special effects, the creatives conjure up a world where anything is possible and the rules of reality can be bent.

As we listen to Harold and Edith deliciously reminisce about their salad days, we learn that they both have leftist political leanings and lived through the revolutionary 60s. They alternately index the greats who are enshrined in their personal pantheon of heroes like Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Lenny Bruce.

Edith's more Bohemian life included living in Paris in the late 60's and hobnobbing with Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Kerouac, and Kathy Acker. Harold has been more of a homebody. He does know the refrain to Ginsberg's iconoclastic poem "Howl" ("I'm with you in Rockland . . .") and robustly recites it with Edith, who also knows the poem inside-out. But, in his heart of hearts, Harold more of an armchair revolutionary than somebody who's willing to go into the trenches for his political beliefs. In short, he stayed home and held down a job as dissenters (like Edith) left America and transplanted themselves in Paris.

There's no linear—or logical-- narrative to First Love. The scenes unfold in a dream-like fashion, the dialogue is punctuated with non sequitors, and Harold and Edith's relationship is characterized with emotional vagaries. For those who need something to hold onto in a play, this romantic romp may prove exasperating at times.

Of course, Mee has purposefully placed them in unstable settings: The already mentioned a park bench, Edith's basement apartment (that has a toaster that blows up), and more surreal habitats. Little wonder that the pair keep stumbling along the path to true love.

If the play's dramaturgy is hard to pin down, it's easy to detect the rituals of first love that Harold and Edith engage in. There's the couple's first meeting, first date, first sexual intimacy, first fight, and so forth. The big difference with First Love, however, is that time has collapsed here and mortality is a palpable —and terrifying— reality for these lovers. They don't have the leisure to let the world spin round as they ponder over whether they are right for each other. They realize that if they don't seize the day, their last opportunity for love may vanish forever.

A former historian, Mee gravitated toward playwriting when he found writing history books was becoming a straitjacket to his creative impulses. As a writer, he realized that he needed the freedom to transcend time and space and create open-ended blueprints for free-wheeling theatrical projects that often borrowed from the Greeks. He succeeded, more often than not.

In the quirky dramatic structure of First Love. Mee often juxtaposes violent scenes with tender sentimental ones. One moment one is watching Edith and Harold tenderly fall in love to the romantic lyrics of "September Song," only to see them later morph into maniacs who verbally abuse each other. In fact, Edith goes toe-to-toe with Medea when she tries to vent her anger at Harold during a quarrel and shouts out: "This is why they flush boy babies down the toilet."

This is hardly escapist romantic fare. Besides the violence, there's the illogical plot which more traditionally-minded theatergoers might not "get." That said, this well staged and performed revival gives First Love an exhilarating second life.

Editor's Note: Following are links to Curtainup's reviews of all three of Mee's "Love' plays when they premiered off-Broadway.
First Love at New York Theatre Workshop
Big Love at the now defunct Zipper Theater
True Love at the Pershing Square Signature Center just a couple of years ago

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First Love by Charles Mee Directed by Kim Weild
Cast: Michael O'Keefe (Harold), Angelina Fiordellisi (Edith), Taylor Harvey (Young Woman).
Sets: Edward Pierce
Costumes: Theresa Squire
Sound: Christian Frederickson
Lighting: Paul Miller
Stage Manager: Nicole Kuker
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission.
Cherry Lane at 38 Commerce Street.
From 6/07/18; opening 6/14/18; closing 7/08/18.
Performance times: Wednesday @ 2pm & 7pm; Thursday at 7pm; Friday at 7pm; Saturday @ 2pm & 7pm. ADDED PERFORMANCES: Monday, July 2 @ 7pm; Tuesday, June 19 @ 7pm; Sunday, July 1 & July 8 @ 3pm. NO PERFORMANCES: Wednesday, July 4 @ 2pm &7pm
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 6/09/18

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