Daniel Jenkins and Robert Stanton in Love Child
(© James Leynse)
Daniel Jenkins and Robert Stanton in Love Child
(© James Leynse)
Unruly audience members, cast members behaving badly, and big-shot producers in the house on opening night. While these things might sound like an actor's nightmare, they're also the key ingredients in the often delightful new backstage comedy Love Child, written and performed by Daniel Jenkins and Robert Stanton at 59E59 Theaters as a Primary Stages production.

The show, directed by Carl Forsman, begins with a slow build and gradually picks up the pace until Jenkins and Stanton are literally running around the stage, morphing from character to character at break-neck speed. The play tells the story of Joel (Jenkins), who is putting up a modern version of Euripides' tragedy Ion, entitled Love Child. In the house on opening night are his agent/mother, Ethel (Stanton) and Ethel's addled sister Kay (Jenkins), as well as Hollywood producers who are looking to possibly cast Joel in a pilot. As with any good farce, things don't go according to plan, hidden secrets come to light, and laughter abounds.

Several of the characters initially come across as near-caricatures. But while some remain underdeveloped, the major ones -- particularly Ethel and Kay -- become more nuanced as the show continues and you find out more of their back story. They still retain a larger than life quality, but the playwright-performers imbue them with a depth of feeling that allows the audience to sympathize with them.

Jenkins is particularly endearing as the overwrought Joel, while Stanton has the uncanny ability of disappearing into some of his roles (particularly the female ones) so completely that you're liable to think back on the show and imagine they were performed by more than one person. Both actors have superb comic timing and an easy rapport with one another. They enact bits of business (such as a recurring gag about a greasy spot on the stage floor) with aplomb, and amusingly perform all their own sound effects.

On the downside, there are so many characters introduced in such a short span of time that it's difficult to keep track of them all, particularly the actors in Joel's play. There are also some jokes that fail to land, and the derivative musical numbers -- sung a cappella -- don't work all that well. Still, the affection that Jenkins and Stanton pour into their creations is infectious.