Stage: Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Desperate Affection
Thru Nov 22 at Circle Theatre, 230 W 4th St, FW. $15 to $25. 817-877-3040.
Dead Lights

Circle Theater finally gets around to Desperate Affection ó and morbid comedy rules.


In the wake of 9/11, Circle Theater held back the regional premiere of a particular play, for reasons of sensitivity. Stories of political assassinations in New York City, like those in Desperate Affection, seemed indelicate at best, considering the countryís mood at the time. Now that 9/11 has receded far enough into the past for us to be able to assume some sense of normality again, audiences may enjoy this play on its own merits ó and there are plenty. Desperate Affection marks not only one of the yearís best productions but also one of Circleís strongest-ever entries.

The action occurs in New York City (circa 1990), though the play feels completely contemporary; no overt time references pop up. Even the playís music gives no hint of the era ó timeless jazz and pop standards are used.

Vivacious actress Maddie (Gigi Cervantes) is over the moon at having finally found true love in the form of a stranger named Richard (Matthew Tomlanovich). The problem comes when Maddie learns that Richard is a professional assassin. Desperate for true love, Maddie ó after her initial dismay ó works to salvage the relationship. Richard meanwhile wrestles with the uneasy realization that he is truly falling for the girl whom he had falsely courted initially only in order to gain access to her conveniently located apartment.

If all this seems like an unsettling tale of blackest humor, thatís because it is. The mood often shifts to brutal from comedic and back again on a dime. But donít assume that this play is a downer. Gripping thriller aspects aside, Desperate Affection is also hilarious comedy and tender (albeit perverse) romance. While integral to the main plot, the assassination subplot is mainly a construct for the larger themes of trust, love, and how well somebody can actually know another person.

The exploration of such matters accounts for the playís real points of interest and fascination. Take the pairís budding romantic involvement. A lot of love-at-first-sight stories feel contrived or hastily hashed together simply to facilitate the plotís development. They eschew the subtle, realistic nuances of doubt and joy that accompany real-life love. Cervantes and Tomlanovich, however, capture those little moments and come across perfectly believable and natural. Several times, for example, the action stops and the characters just hold on to each other ó you might even forget youíre watching a play, the moment is so real.

Desperate Affectionís other strength is in the two actorsí onstage dynamics. Where Richard is fastidious and reserved (his early refusals to meet Maddieís friends, be photographed, or leave phone messages hint that something is off), Maddie is haphazard and chatty. Itís fun to watch these two characters of opposite personality traits, who interact so effortlessly, get on each otherís nerves in one way and perfectly complement each other in other ways. The on-stage chemistry is a thrill to enjoy.

Itís good to see Circle Theatre tackling the edgy, cutting drama that used to be a mainstay at the old Fort Worth Theatre. Hopefully, Circle will get its hands on more works like Desperate Affection. That isnít to discredit the groupís earlier productions; many were great. Itís just that, along with the great comedies and crowdpleasers, the stark and the provocative also have a place. Desperate Affection proves this.

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