An Entomologist’s Love Story
by Melissa Ross
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
San Francisco Playhouse
Betty, an entomologist at the New York’s Museum of Natural History, delivers the harsh realties of bug mating in the opening of Melissa Ross’ world premiere of An Entomologist’s Love Story. Praying mantises chewing the heads off their mates and drones dying after insemination in what she calls the ‘ultimate buzzkill”. What at first appears to be a formulaic love story between two dissimilar co-workers becomes much more in Ross’ sweet, charming story of romance and finding one’s perfect ‘fit’.
Excessively argumentative and abrasive Betty (Lori Prince) and cutely, awkward Jeff (Lucas Verbrugghe) are scientists in an entomology lab. They’re in their mid-30s and looking for love, each in their own style. Jeff history tends towards large breasts and limited intelligence. Betty is serial dating on social media dating sites and not too keen on serious relationships. Betty feels she must ‘dumb herself down’ while Jeff insists smart men like smart women. Set in Nina Ball’s phenomenally dressed lab, the two best friends banter back and forth about their sex lives. We find out they’ve done the deed decades ago; it didn’t work out then, but there’s a palpable sexual tension between these two.
Into the mix, Ross throws quirky Lindsay (Jessica Lynn Carroll), who called their lab seeking help with some mysterious bites on her leg. For Jeff, its love at first bite. And as their all too cutesy romance builds, Betty gets jealous. She’s losing her best friend and perhaps her ace-in-the-hole partner. Betty runs into a sweet guy named Andy (Will Springhorn, Jr.) who happened upon one of her lectures. He’s separated with kids and a janitor – not exactly what Betty imagined for herself. Both Andy and Lindsay represent alternatives to Betty and Jeff’s vision, showing growth in their rigid worldviews. The acting is top-notch by all four.
Nina Ball’s rotating set switches between the many wooden drawered cabinets and pithed insect displays of the lab as well as areas for the couples to meet outside the workspace, all gorgeously lit by Kurt Landisman with projections by Theodore J.H. Hulsker. Giovanna Sardelli’s fine direction allows the interplay between these four romantically searching characters space to develop. Betty is a tad too strident, snarky and confrontational, but perhaps Ross intended this to better highlight her transformation. Seems Betty and Jeff can be bff’s and find love once they resolve their angst. An Entomologist’s Love Story leaves you with a sweet, hopeful air, and is a provides optimism to us jaded cynics.
An Entomologist’s Love Story continues through June 23, 2018 at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, san Francisco. Tickets are available online at http://www.sfplayhouse.org or by calling 415-677-9596.
Photo credits by Jessica Palopoli.