If you want to appreciate a work of art, your attitude matters. Personally, I dislike romantic comedies, unless tempered with a darker subplot or an element of fantasy, or when carried off with panache.
So I didn't expect to enjoy Midsummer (a play with songs), a 2009 Scottish romcom by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre. I didn't know that Inis Nua's sly, fantastical production at the Off-Broad Street Theater would transform the genre.
Midsummer opens on romcom staple number one: an unlikely pair of lovers, 35-year old childless divorce lawyer Helena (an utterly delightful Liz Filios) and same-age, divorced petty crook Bob (the always fascinating Charlie DelMarcelle). They don't like their love lives (another staple). Both harbor troubling secrets. So when the married man she's seeing ditches her, Helena decides to drink and degrade herself further at a bar with the biggest lowlife she can find.
This straightforward start segues into an unexpectedly funny, and funnily raunchy, sex scene (presided over by an Elmo doll, no less). When Bob finds himself holding a bag full of cash the next day, things accelerate into an epic adventure that sprawls across Edinburgh and features Goth musicians, talking parking meters, and a bizarre confessional in a Japanese rope bondage parlor. A poster bed functions as park bench, taxi seat and wine bar; the pair wheel it about Meghan Jones' cozy bedroom set where Shon Causer's lighting creates a rich, textured aura.
But the true joy of this piece stems from Filios and DelMarcelle's captivating performances. They perform McIntyre's rock songs on cello, accordion, ukulele, guitar and a wooden crate suitable for drumming. They craft unique, compelling portraits of two frustrated souls, lost at midlife but still searching.
Under Kate Galvin's exquisitely timed direction, their he said/she said reenactments of scenes ebb and flow, once in a punchline, next in a soft moment of discovery. Greig's plot cycles backward and forward over the summer solstice weekend. Fate intervenes, magic happens, stars cross.
Sure, the most wretched cynic could retch over a play about two hapless yet hopeful romantic hangers-on, trying to begin again with little time left for that. But for everyone else, this play will charm you if you let it.
"Midsummer (a play with songs)"
Presented by Inis Nua Theatre at the Off-Broad Street Theater, 1636 Sansom St., through April 26.
Tickets: $25-$30. Information: 215-454-9776 or www.inisnuatheatre.org