Playwright: Mat Smart. At: Livewire Chicago Theatre at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln. Phone: 773-404-7336; $20. Runs through: April 17
What defines true love? Whatever your convictions on that question, you cannot deny the copious amounts of it invested by Mat Smart in this carefully-crafted multi-generational look at the many faces of l'amour.
Vincent and Annie enjoy each other's company sharing dinner dates and little private jokes in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. But given the propensity of youth for fixing what ain't broken, Vincent has spontaneously decamped for his ancestral apartment in the 13th arrondissement (municipal district, hence the play's title) of Paris with a suitcase full of his grandfather's letters, there to search for the secret of the devotion so eloquently expressed therein. What he encounters is his grandsire's ghost, who offers him advice and insight into Gallic courting practices circa 1951a stark contrast to that of school chum Jessica and her husband, who drink and screw a lot. But not until Annie joins Vincent on his quest does the revelation he seeks begin to manifest itself.
And not by following instructions, either, "true love" turning out to be whatever the lovers make of it. When Vincent scoffs at Jessica and William's volatile relationship, he receives a smack on the nose for his insolenceand rightly so, for what outsider can hope to comprehend the bond that refuses to alter when it alteration finds? This live-and-let-live attitude is customarily perpetrated by a mature playwright whose assertion is based in extensive excursions within the realms of the heart, so it is nothing short of astonishing that Smart is, himself, not yet 30 years old. Whoever said that young people today are too hip and cynical to write romantic? Not me.
Livewire Chicago Theatre has likewise invested much care and affection into its production (and, at one point, bestows some of the latter on us, but I won't spoil the surprise). Under Steve Wilson's sensitive direction, the six actors all but glow with innocent charm (including Robert McLean, who redeems in gallantry what he lacks in years, playing the role of the urbane grandpère). And Elise Kauzlaric's pristine dialects, coupled with Anders Jacobson and Judy Radovsky's delicate decor, invoke, to the last exquisite detail, the fantasy ville lumière where love is in the airliterallyjust waiting to be discovered by foolish sweethearts of any age, era or opinion.