Her Red Umbrella: A high energy bedroom farce that benefits from excellent casting.
Her Red Umbrella follows five Harvard students on a tour of Europe, studying Romantic literature and learning more about themselves. One of them is a dorky archaeology student who’s always dreamed of traveling abroad. One’s a TA with a reputation for being a ladykiller. One’s an investment banking intern (or graduate? it’s not clear) who needs to be wrangled into cutting loose. And one’s not a Harvard student at all. The ancient allure of Europe works its magic on them until they find themselves in a comical string of circumstances, making idiots of themselves for love.
The dialogue is stiff and artificial at times, so it falls to the actors to make it work. Thankfully, this show is exceptionally well cast, with the bubbly Cara (Erika Geller) giving life to a rather stock type (the Manic Pixie Dream Girl). Cara is best friends with Justine (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan), a perfect comic foil, who delivers the most melodramatic lines with expert timing and pitch to heighten the play’s ridiculous energy. Once you get past Bastian’s (Noah Tobin) ridiculous French accent, you find a source of energy and comic inspiration: a frenetic muse who drags the story along with him during the slower moments. Ellis, the professor (Evan Quinlan), is one of those stock British types who only exists in Joss Whedon shows: adorable, flustered, poised and full of rhetoric. He’s a character, but he’s an entertaining character, and entertainment forgives all.
Casting the author of the show (Brian Tuttle) as a young writer who’s critically acclaimed but largely unknown is a bit on-the-nose (to borrow the unfortunate cliche). Sadly, he’s the least interesting character in the ensemble. Fortunately, Tuttle makes up in passion what the character lacks in depth. Portraying a hesitant character with verve and energy takes a lot of talent (and probably a lot of good direction as well, by 11:11 regular Robyn Linden), and Tuttle pulls it off. The story moves at a good clip, introduces plenty of interesting characters, and alternates between sentiment and humor with good pacing. Eliminating two scenes (the first and the seventh) would make the show perfect. But then, the moral of the play is that no romantic fantasy ever turns out perfect. Perhaps the show ought to be the same.