Love Knots, this year’s Fringe submission from Cincinnati’s Essex Theatre Arts Studio, has good, even sweet, intentions: five 10-minute plays by Phil Paradis, each trying to untangle love. The production’s weak writing and flat, uninspired staging sours the experience of a piece that should have been frothy, warm, and kind of tingly — day-old coffee when you wanted a latte. But an obviously talented cast brings to life a few tender and endearing moments.
The first 10 minutes, Whistle Stop Romance, about a formerly engaged couple arguing about a long ago break-up, is a meandering examination of a relationship that is truly and not at all likely to be rekindled.
It’s unclear what either of them wants besides to fill time before she boards her train. The most successful 10 minutes of the Love Knots is the second, the Holey Swiss Duet. An elderly woman in Manhattan is genuinely upset that the holes in her Swiss cheese were too big, so the store opener calms her with a free hot lunch. Not a romance, but two of the most honest and entertaining performances of the show.
The Next Table, the third leg of the production, is a restaurant full of couples all discussing, arguing, considering the possibility, and in some cases, the incredibly complicated logistics, of becoming parents. The absolute weakest 10 minutes of the piece, the characters in The Next Table are each empty, talking heads, and the staging is boring and perfunctory.
The Happy Family at Lui’s Golden Dragon, the penultimate 10, is likely the meanest and most twisted of the plays: a down-on-their-luck couple has an explosive fight on Thanksgiving Day that lands their frozen turkey on the hood of their neighbor’s car. There is some yelling, some kissing and some Chinese takeout. Finally, in last play, Sunny Side Up, an elderly man and woman meet in a park and become companions. The scene lacked momentum, but it had charming moments of light comedy.
Even at its best, Love Knots feels forced and heavily reliant on clichés and stereotypes. It’s a series of bad blind dates when all you wanted was a Valentine.