July 21 2010 12:00 AM

Williamston Theatre cooks up summer fun with a zany musical


“Five Course Love” may be light fare from a dramatic standpoint, but it is certainly a tasty and satisfying dish worth trying. A musical that fits cozily on the Williamston Theatre stage, “Five Course Love” offers a variety of flavors for a broad palate, with plenty of spices thrown in as well. (OK, done with the bad Review food puns — although more may follow, unintentionally.)

Written (music, book, and lyrics) by Gregg Coffin and playfully directed by Tom Woldt. “Love” is a bawdy yet restrained romp though five different eateries around the world. As the title implies, the play is less about eating and more about the love triangles in the ethnic and regionally stereotyped locales.

For example, the Italian restaurant features a tough-talking “family man” and his best friend’s wife; the German schnitzel Diner manager Aaron T. Moore listens to greaser Matthew Gwynn sing the praises of his dreamgirl, while waitress Laura Croff looks on in "Five Course Love." restaurant includes a former Nazi in hiding and his kinky friends; the Mexican restaurant has … well, you get the picture.

The ensemble cast — Matthew Gwynn, Aaron T. Moore and Laura Croff — plays their stock caricatures with melodramatic zeal. Jeff English accompanies the cast on keyboard, deftly matching every musical style with balanced support that never intrudes upon the lyrics or the singers.

The lyrics themselves rely on clever rhyme and innuendo instead of blatant profanity, a technique that allows audiences to enjoy frequent sex jokes through a screen of suggestion. Of course, each locale offers its own slanted euphemisms based on phallic food or puns based on regional slang.

The central selling point is the chemistry between Gwynn and Moore, two actors who could not be more distinctly different in size or in style. First is Moore, who is literally a human oak tree, from his massive limbs to his generally nutty persona. Whether he is playing the brooding German maitre d’ or an ebullient cowboy waiter, Moore embodies funny by exercising complete control over all of his expressive features, from his fingers to his eyes.

As the shortest member of the cast, Gwynn plays the male love interest, whether as a shy, nerdy accountant meeting a blind date or as the cocky, swaggering greaser/Mafia goon/ Mexican cowboy, almost all of whom have a Napoleonic inferiority complex. That is not to say that his characters are identical (they are not), but he is often the foil to Moore’s characters, the counterbalance that works in perfect sync with his stage partner.

Croff easily matches the physicality of the men and has the second strongest voice, next to Moore, but the stillness of her eyes contributes to an overall lack of expression that mutes much of the potential chemistry she could have with her co-stars; additionally, it makes her seem emotionally disconnected from the action happening around her.

Bartley H. Bauer’s set is solid and simple, allowing for seamless scene transitions aided by the slide projection lighting designed by Ted Rhyner. Melanie Schuessler’s costumes — from wigs to dog collars — complete the illusion that these three actors are, in total, 15 different characters.

With a crisp 90-minute running time, “Five Course Love” is an appetizing summer diversion that goes down smoothly with a pleasant aftertaste. And it won’t leave you feeling stuffed.

‘Five Course Love’

Williamston Theatre 122 S. Putnam Road, Williamston 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 15 $24 Friday and Saturday evenings; $20 weekend matinees; $18 Thursdays (517) 655-SHOW www.williamstontheatre.org