Shadow Horse Theatre brings 'A Kind of Love Story' to Minneapolis

ROBCALLAHAN | Updated 2/3/2014

Local production company adds energy, local flavor to Los Angeles playwright's romantic comedy on dating.

Ware Carlton-Ford and Kendra McMillan as Mark and Ally, two hopeless romantics in search of true love.

"A Kind of Love Story" is the tale of two would-be soul mates. They're both nice, vulnerable people who spend most of their time under life's boot. They are each the ideal for which the other is desperately searching, and they are constantly missing each other by that much. It's an old device, but Shadow Horse Theatre's take on it is pretty fresh.

This play's actors are its greatest strength. Ally (Kendra McMillan) and Mark (Ware Carlton-Ford) play off of each other well considering they're rarely ever actually together. They're backed up by a vibrant supporting cast that includes Bethany Ford, Amanda Kay Thomm, Matt Saxe and Matt Kelly, as well as an ensemble of passersby, romantic interests and mediocre friends of the main characters. The assembled group defies the conventional wisdom that young, new companies tend to showcase mixed levels of talent: In this play, everyone on stage has got their chops up and everyone's all in.

The script is another story. Playwright Jenelle Riley doesn't quite seem to grasp what makes her two leads tick. Her script misses some marks by getting the details wrong, and these are details that characters like Mark and Ally should know like the backs of their hands. Many of these details don't actually do anything for the story, and could've been left out altogether, and a few come off so wrong that there's no just no gentle way to say it:

• There's no such thing as a "level 4 dungeon master"

• Superman is not that kind of d-bag, as every boy who grew up reading comics knows

• Belle is not a vapid mean girl, as every girl who grew up watching Disney knows, or so I hear

• That's not what a Members Only jacket looks like

I get that this is a comedy. It's a romp, a takeoff, a caricature even, but even caricatures need a little fine pencil work, and there are moments when the missed details leave Mark and Ally looking like little more than hurried mockeries painted in broad, slapdash strokes.

Because the story stumbles over details it could have easily brushed aside, the script is far from top notch. That isn't to say that it's really bad. It's just really rough, and most of that roughness is the stuff of Chekhov's gun: It's about ninety minutes of really good story mixed up with thirty other minutes that are just irrelevant, all sort of tossed together in a two hour show.

Still, despite its problems, the show itself isn't half bad. Some of the jokes still work despite the foibles. Others actually work because of them. Of the rest, some are just duds, but the cast delivers even the duds with a charm and enthusiasm that makes one want to see more of what Shadow Horse can do.

They're a small, fairly young company shamelessly having a good time telling stories on a low budget. They're not afraid to have fun with what they're doing, and that attitude is contagious. This production's over-the-top qualities overshadow its underwhelming moments and it comes together nicely by the end, feeling a bit like "Singles" done in the style of an Eighties sitcom produced by Walter Lantz.

Matt Saxe and Matthew Kelly said in interviews elsewhere that their goal was to produce a play that’s accessible to everyday theatergoers, and they've met that goal with this show. "A Kind of Love Story" was a big hit with the audience, who sometimes struggled to catch their breath between laughs.

(A Kind of Love Story continues at 7 p.m. Feb. 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22; and 2 p.m. Feb. 9, 16, and 23. $12-15. Old Arizona Theater, 2821 Nicollet Avenue, Mpls. www.shadowhorsetheatre.com)