The opening scene of Lotus Theatre Collective's Love Negotiated is apparently set in the early evening, which makes it a little late in the day for a nooner. Richard and Veronica squeezed it in a few minutes ago anyhow, and that says a lot about the persistence that marks their lives. They're divorce and family attorneys, after all. As such, it's not stretching things to presume they've nooned their share of clients and then some, a few of whom probably had it coming.
But this play contains little about law, at least the kind you find between the covers of a stupid book. We can lay down all the rules we want, and we can modify them as our conduct requires, but romantic love—often against its better judgment—is the central force of nature in our public lives. That's what makes playwright Kevin Six's concept (i.e., lawyers in love) so appropriate. He's got an ideal partner in director D.J. Sullivan, probably the best all-around drama coach in the city. The story takes it from there—and while it occasionally backs into its characters, it's a spirited tale, blessedly devoid of cliché, that augurs well for Six and, importantly, for University Heights' Swedenborg Hall.
The headstrong Dick and Ronnie (Marc Biagi and Jennie Olson) fuel history's most grueling love relationship (their own); ironically, they stay together amid the maelstrom that descends on their stylish home. Before the play's over, three other couples weigh in on sex, lifestyles, family and every other element so crucial to romantic foundations. Some (like Ann, played by the hilarious Savvy Scopelleti) will begrudgingly draw their own conclusions about the gay experience. All will agree that romantic involvement raises more questions than it answers.
Six would likely be the first to note that this show breaks nothing near new ground. Playwrights from Aeschylus to Philip King have tackled love and its intimacies from every conceivable angle, with every conceivable result. That's where Sullivan comes in with a vengeance—her uncanny sense of style keeps the interludes interesting, creating happy distractions as she adjusts body languages to fit the rising and falling action. Sullivan is truly a San Diego treasure; the fact that she's coached two Tony winners and an Oscar nominee is but a whisper amid her accomplishments.
She and Six do tend to falter a bit on the use of the set. Much is made of Richard and Veronica's front door as part of the action, with the couples posing in the frame as it opens. Some scenelets might have gone better if some of the principals had let themselves in instead of ringing that blasted bell. That may seem like a quibble, but it's not. Doors are highly metaphorical in middle farces like these; that's why they're always getting slammed, poor things.In any event, please do enjoy this taut, well-executed piece on a topic that never seems to go away. It's earnestly funny, and it's also a feather in Swedenborg Hall's cap; more and more, the venue is holding itself out as a major public performance space. Nice to think that eclectic University Heights has a little arts district in the making, with the acclaimed Diversionary Theatre as its flagship. This review is based on the opening-night performance of Feb. 14. Love Negotiated runs through March 1 at Swedenborg Hall, 1531 Tyler Ave., University Heights. $12-$15. 619-952-1416, www.lovenegotiated.com.