Ten years ago, local theatre couple John Tomlinson and Barbara Clark shared the stage “examining love, lust, dating, and romance” in the two-person comedy Romantic Fools by Rich Orloff. Now, a decade later and married to each other, they are re-examining these characters and taking us along for the ride.
You may recognize Clark as one of the members of the acapella group, My Divas, or as the Executive Director of the Lake County Arts Council, or from any of the numerous productions she’s appeared in all over Lake County. You may also have seen any number of shows directed by Tomlinson in his capacity as Artistic Director for New Vintage Productions, in collaboration with the Lake County Theatre Company, or as a part-time faculty member of Mendocino College Lake Center.
This weekend and next, the two reprise their roles as they play ten characters between them in their search for love. Along the way, we witness a date with “a nightmare in a sexy skirt,” a date with a primitive man, the worst date ever, and even “a sexual fantasy presented in the most hilarious extreme way.” And that’s just in the first act. The two main characters, Andrew and Lori, include the audience as they work through their dating experiences of Act I and then through the course of their relationship in Act II.
I should warn you, there is some mature material in the show. “There are some jokes that go over the line and things are pushed to the extreme for the sake of comedy,” Thomlinson says. “There are things expressed in the dialogue one minute in the show that it literally tries to take back the next. There is a Vaudevillian level of silliness to the play. And, in fact, the full title is actually Romantic Fools, a comic vaudeville. The show is always good fun, but not always in good taste. It is 20 years old after all. But, if you are looking to have fun and laugh, you’ll have a good time.
Tomlinson first laid eyes on Clark in a Lake County Repertory Theatre production of The Fiddler on the Roof. He was new to the area and his friend had asked if he would be interested in being in the show as they were trying to find someone to play opposite Clark. Tomlinson declined as he was busy at the time, but after he went to the closing night performance and tagged along with his friend to the cast party, he wished that he had accepted the offer. Of Clark, he said he found “her performance and her enchanting.”
These days they often collaborate on shows, but they don’t alway get to act together in them. Ten years ago, local thespian and business partner at the time, Claudia Listman, who was familiar with the show, urged them to read the script multiple times until they finally agreed. Says Tomlinson, “It was perfect for us. We had the uniqueness of being in a relationship and the chemistry was evident. Jokes that were not meant to be jokes got laughs from our friends as having double and triple meanings.”
Ten years later and married, I asked what, if anything, they found different this time around. Tomlinson found his old script with his notes and script analysis. While he still agrees with a lot of it he was surprised to find parts where he thought to himself, “this is so wrong.” He realized that he’d only scratched the surface of those characters the last time. “Ten years together with the same partner. Getting to do this show together twice is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s extremely rewarding to get back into these characters and push the story through a new lens…a new new me. It’s pretty cool.”
Clark was surprised at how her view of Lori had changed. She had always seen Lori as older than herself. She now sees her as “older now like me” and as someone with “more insight, life experiences, and relationship experiences. She combed through the script to come up with her character’s backstory and found evidence that led her to new choices. She found herself saying, “How did I miss this before?” She also made herself slow down. She wanted to make sure she didn’t just fall into the same speed and intonation when delivering her lines. “I needed to stop and challenge myself to re-attack the lines as the new Lori, not as the old Lori.”
Tomlinson jumped in, “Yes! I love that. The muscle memory. Retraining is required sometimes.” The last production “wasn’t a bad show, but it can lead us away from being in the moment. We want to keep things fresh.”
Part of the success they’ve had with keeping the new production “fresh” came from their director, Tiffany Harz. Clark found it nice to have a director who had worked with both of them before, knows what they are capable of, and who hadn’t seen the last production. As such, she says Harz came to the table with no preconceived notions and saw things they hadn’t considered.
Tomlinson added, “She got us to make big choices. She’s good at improv. She went through the full program with the Groundlings in L.A. She has comedy chops and experimented with pacing and also physicalizing our characters. She put us through exercises to make us connect with each of these presences differently. She also makes us take our time and work on the relationship more. It’s made for a much more connected moment-to-moment type performance.”
And, speaking of pacing, no matter how much a director works on that, a show with multiple characters and multiple quick changes is only as good as the dresser. And, they have a good one in Carie Ann Eve-Laubach. She has prior experience with the show as she was the dresser for the last production, as well, though it almost didn’t happen. Clark had made the decision to only use those 18 and older due to some of the material in the show and Eve-Laubach just made the cut last time around. In the decade that has passed, she has since gone to college and was actually trained in quick change as part of her theatre studies at Oregon University.
And, Clark certainly needs the assistance. The first time they did this show, Clark was new to costuming and she and Tomlinson basically raided their own closets for the costumes. This time around, Clark has more experience as a costumer and more options. And, she and Harz have added wigs to the quick changes to really differentiate the characters.
One of those characters that Tomlinson finds particularly fun to portray is Hunga Dunga, the wedding planner whom we meet in Act II. He’s a vaudevillian, Marx Brothers-type character. Tomlinson says, “There are many versions of Who’s On First, but Hunga Dunga’s version is “one you will never forget.”
If you’d like to see Hunga Dunga, “the nightmare in a sexy skirt,” or any of the other 8 characters they play, make plans and get your tickets now. Romantic Fools, by Rich Orloff, will be performed at two separate venues on opposite ends of the lake: February 10 – 12 at the Lower Lake Historic Schoolhouse Museum, and February 17 – 19 at the Soper Reese Theatre in Lakeport. Fridays and Saturdays shows are at 7pm, and Sunday matinees are at 2pm. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Tickets for Lower lake can be purchased through Eventbrite.com and at soperreesetheatre.com for the Lakeport venue. For more information call John Tomlinson at (707) 355-2211.