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Reality
by Lea Romeo
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
HotCity Theatre
December 13, 2014

Ben Nordstrom, Maggie Conroy, Tyler Vickers Photo HotCity Theatre

Ben Nordstrom, Maggie Conroy, Tyler Vickers
Photo by Kyra Bishop
HotCity Theatre

Scene: a beautiful tropical island. An elegantly dressed man and woman stand on the beach, while the man gives a halting speech declaring his love for the woman. He proposes, and she accepts with great enthusiasm.  He puts the ring on her finger, and they embrace. Cut!  That’s a wrap!  That may seem like the end of a story, but it’s just the beginning in Reality, a new comedy by Lia Romeo that examines life after the cameras stop rolling for the contestants of a Bachelor-like reality dating show.  It’s an incisive, witty swansong for HotCity Theatre, a long-time fixture in the St. Louis theatre scene that will be closing its doors following this production.

It will be sad to see HotCity go, but they’re certainly not going without humor. Reality is a new play that explores its subject matter with a clever premise, a well-structured plot, and well-drawn characters.  It’s also inventively presented to look like the shooting of a television show. When Matt (Tyler Vickers) proposes to Annie (Maggie Conroy) while filming the last episode of the TV show Looking For Love, their “journey” isn’t over.  As show producer Josh (Ben Nordstrom) informs them, they now have to keep their relationship quiet until the final episode airs.  This is a complicated situation, as Matt and Annie are set up in a “safe house” away from prying eyes on the weekends so they can spend time together, although Annie quickly finds that Matt isn’t the kind of guy she thought he was, and Matt isn’t sure what he thinks of the relationship, Annie, or himself.  Annie, who has dreamed of finding an ideal mate, is surprised to learn from runner-up contestant Krissandra (Julie Layton) that many of the show’s contestants were there for Hollywood exposure rather than to find love. While the relationship between Matt and Annie is tested, Josh is there as a confidant for Annie and becomes another complication, but is Josh being sincere or is he more concerned about the show?

This is an intriguing show in its concept, which is very well realized by Director Annamaria Pileggi and the strong cast and crew.  With a set designed by Kyra Bishop to resemble the set of a TV show, and Michael Sullivan’s lighting and Jane Sullivan’s costumes adding to the reality TV-style atmosphere, this play makes an impression with its consistent sense of theme. Even the scene changes are structured like those of a TV show, and when the actors leave the set, they are often visible getting ready for the next scene. Everything is out in the open here, unlike the situation for Annie, who is often in the dark as to what is happening around her.  Conroy gives a convincing performance as the somewhat naive Annie, who is gradually learning that reality isn’t exactly what it seems.  Vickers, as the amiable but somewhat clueless Matt, displays a convincingly awkward chemistry with Conroy. There’s also excellent work from Nordstrom as the sometimes charming, always scheming Josh, and by Layton as the brash Krissandra, who is probably the most honest character in the show.  Her scenes with Conroy as the two drink wine and swap stories about what happened during filming are among the comic highlights of the production.  The relationship dynamics are constantly shifting in this play, and the cast handles all the changes and surprises with energy and excellent timing.

If you have watched any reality dating shows, the format of the fictional Looking For Love will be familiar. As extreme as the situations can get in this play, it’s not that difficult to imagine a similar situation happening behind the scenes of a TV show like this in real life.  That sense of only slightly heightened reality adds to the entertainment value of this memorable comedy.  It’s another strong production from HotCity, a St. Louis theatre company that has will be missed very much.

Julie Layton, Maggie Conroy Photo by Kyra Bishop HotCity Theatre

Julie Layton, Maggie Conroy
Photo by Kyra Bishop
HotCity Theatre

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