Joe Candelora and Linda Purl as Hal and Kate in the new comedy sensation LOVE QUEST at Ivoryton Playhouse (Photo: IP)

When "predator guy" (Josh Powell) meets Kate (Linda Purl) in LOVE QUEST, more than sparks fly. (Photo: Ivoryton Playhouse)

Internet dating site LOVE QUEST might not be real, but you'll REALLY have a great time watching this new comedy (Photo : Ivoryton Playhouse)

The very "French" Bove (Mike Mihm) is miffed because Brook (Jes Bedwinek) won't take him to the Golden Globes (Photo: Ivoryton Playhouse)

Megan (Susan Slotoroff) signs up her mother (Linda Purl) onto a dating site to help her recover from divorce. (Photo: Ivoryton Playhouse)

LOVE QUEST at Ivoryton Playhouse – a comedy for the 21st century

Jes Bedwinek as Brook the designer dates "Action Comic Man" (Josh Powell) in Ivoryton Playhouse's comedy LOVE QUEST

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

(Photos courtesy Ivoryton Playhouse)

The current offering at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut is a refreshing new comedy by Mary Maguire and Stephen McGraw – Love Quest. Artistic/Executive Director Jacqui Hubbard found Love Quest at a reading in New York City last February. She courageously has taken the leap to bring this mature contemporary treat to the Ivoryton stage, much to the delight of the opening night audience.

Exploring the perilous and risky world of online dating, two California women, strangers to each other, separately enter their profiles onto the Love Quest dating site. Divorcee Kate Crawford, a 60-year-old (played by the much younger-looking Linda Purl*) enlists the assistance of her well-meaning daughter Megan (Susan Slotoroff) to move on from her single status to rejoin the world of meeting eligible men.

In another part of L.A., 35- year-old designer Brook (Jes Bedwinek) enlists the help of her assistant, the wildly flamboyantBové (Mike Mihm*) to also sign up for finding hot eye-candy love in all the wrong places.

Adding “speed dating” to her quest for meeting men, Kate discovers that most of the younger guys dismiss her as quickly as she dismisses them. Pursing the same avenues, Brook is bored to tears with the kind of men who populate the quickie-dating world, and she, too, is cynically dismissive of the process.

As the story unfolds, Kate and Brook’s paths cross, giving them the opportunity to become friends and allies in the wacky world of singles who’ve been out of the scene for too long - as they hilariously rejoin the fast and furious date race.

Each cast member portrays the Maguire-McGraw characters as the contemporary frantic and needy people they were written to be in this charming fast-moving production. Linda Purl plays an often-exasperated Kate with body language that’s spot on. Her reactions to uncomfortable situations that are shocking or frustrating to Kate are priceless. Jes Bedwinek’s Brook illustrates the pitfalls of being “married to the job” – her personal life is reduced to snatches of intimacy, or just one-off sexual encounters.

Mike Mihm’s portrayal of the silly queen Bové is so broad that it’s as laugh-out loud as it is sometimes almost offensive – in Act 1. Stay tuned for Act 2 to be let in on the motivation for his mincing over-the-top performance.  Josh Powell* as Everyman gives this actor an opportunity to show his remarkable acting range – a tour de force. He successfully brings to life every offensive guy that the women are subjected to: a smarmy predator; a demandingly fascist spa operator; a scary action-hero wannabee and a self-aggrandizing mister know-it-all.

Nice Guy Hal is played with delightfully relaxed natural charm by Joe Candelora*. His performance can be attributed to honing his craft to perfection for over 40 years. Way to go, Joe!

Susan Slotoroff makes her Ivoryton Playhouse debut as Megan. Her believable portrayal as a loving, open and honest daughter to Kate is enhanced by the chemistry that she and Ms. Purl have onstage.

Scenic Designer Daniel Nischan once again takes on the challenge of a new work with imaginative projection concepts; simple suggestions of Brook’s office and Kate’s kitchen on either side of the Ivoryton stage; and a few boxes, tables and chairs to represent nightclubs, restaurants, locker rooms and parks. Hooray to Stage Manager Laura Lynn Knowles* and her black-clad team who quick-as-flash change scenes without slowing the lively pace of the show – they are all unsung heroines.

Marcus Abbott keeps the lighting as bright and bouncy as this charming and funny play.

Michael Morris has skillfully composed an unseen character with his original music to keep the action moving along with the superb fast-paced direction of Jacqui Hubbard.

Elizabeth Saylor Cippolina has taken on triple creative roles with costume, wig and hair design. The outdated man bun on the spa operator is especially noteworthy. Tate R. Burmeister once again weaves her sound and technical roles in the flawless execution of the video screens in sync with the onstage action.

Comparisons are always odious. But in stark contrast, The Age of Innocence is now playing at Hartford Stage while Love Quest is simultaneously making its fully mounted debut at the Ivoryton Playhouse.  In the former, it’s bad taste and totally inappropriate to touch hands in public in the Victorian era.  In the latter, having a “ladyscaped whoo-ha” is one of the best ways to hook up with a hot stud. Times, they are a ‘changing. And this engaging play reflects how 21st-century real and honest folks speak and behave privately. For a refreshingly humorous night or afternoon of uncensored grown-up escapades call 860-767-7318, and leave the kiddies at home.

Love Quest runs through May 13th, 2018.  Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm.

Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org  (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, Connecticut.

*Denotes Member Actors Equity Association