I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is a different kind of play for CUTC, whose regular fare features large-cast family-friendly musical productions like the recent Guys & Dolls or the upcoming Oliver! While both are familiar crowd-pleasers, this weekend’s show features a small, close-knit cast in a modern musical revue of related vignettes presented in the round at Parkland Theatre’s Second Stage. It’s definitely a dramatic turn for the company, but a conversation with the players has me thinking that change can be a very good thing. 

With a book by Joe DiPietro and music by Jimmy Roberts, the revue is the second-longest running Off-Broadway musical with over 5,000 performances in twelve years. The songs and scenes play off each other, traveling down the path that society expects from a traditional romantic relationship: dating, getting serious, engagement, marriage, kids, family life, growing old, surviving loved ones, dating in the golden years. The trick is, while the play’s arc mimics that of the normative relationship, it doesn’t just follow one particular couple. Each vignette features new characters, new perspectives, new ways of approaching the relationship and the person across the stage.

This sounds like the perfect setup for Cara Maurizi, veteran thespian and member of Zoo Improv. With 20 scenes and 40 characters, this one production provides more opportunities for new mindsets and mannerisms than acting in every show for an entire theatre season. "We span such a wide variety of characters,” says Maurizi, “this is definitely a very fun challenge for any actor.” My thoughts were that the quick-changes would be where the improv would help her the most, but to her, it provides the foundation for her entire acting method. “It gives you the tools to really listen in a way that makes the scene fresh and new every time…[it’s] all about being present in the moment, listening to your scene partner, and reacting truthfully.” She goes on to tell me that her character’s emotions drive everything she does onstage, so listening and feeling every single time is what informs her choices, providing a realism that is perceptible from the audience.

Connecting the actors to those emotions was very important to director Kyle A. Thomas, who began the rehearsal process by having the four sit down and share their own relationship experiences with each other. Cast member Ranae Wilson reflected on how it helped her understand her castmates better as well as giving her insights into some of the characters. “Each person involved with this show, whether mature or young, has lived an interesting life and experienced things that help bring each different character to life and make them human.”

Which is an interesting point, because this cast's ages span all of Act I and the beginning of Act II. With a recent high school graduate, a recent college graduate, a young professional and a married-with-kids, each of the four actors brought a unique viewpoint to the process. It struck me as quite the clever casting move* on the part of Thomas, and it provoked quite a few responses from the cast. Cedric Jones admits that he hasn’t “gone through the relationship cycle that this show encompasses,” but that the scene titled “A Stud and a Babe” was quite relatable for him. Ranae has never been married, but remembers “having life throw obstacles in your way, making it difficult to find that much-needed alone time with someone you care about,” and brings that into a scene where the obstacles are children. Newcomer Cody T. Johnson adds, "The core of the production for me is romance and how it complicates life in the best and worst ways. That core is something I have experienced." Kyle A. Thomas agrees, stating, “The themes are universal and the treatment of relationships focuses more specifically on the closer, intimate interactions we all share.” 

And shared interactions are familiar territory for these players, half of whom have worked with the director on several previous occasions. Familiarity can be a double-edged sword in any community, but the power of Kyle A. Thomas’ reputation was what drew this cast together, by all reports. Wilson works at KCPA, and “admire[s] Kyle’s work and his knowledge of theatre and [has] heard nothing but great things about him as a director.” Maurizi and Jones, having worked with Thomas previously, cited him as the primary reason for their involvement, and enjoy his style of directing which encourages creative choices balanced with guidance rather than dictating. Thomas observed, “Working with actors you know and respect makes the job of a director so much easier,” because lines of communication are already established, and familiarity allows for more effective coaching. As an audience member, I know that having strong bonds between cast members can definitely propel the performances to the next level, and create an enjoyable atmosphere.

Kyle A. Thomas is particularly proud of the play’s physical atmosphere, as well. He extolled the virtues of the “amazingly talented production team,” especially scenic designer Bernie Wolff, who was on board with the idea of staging the show in the round. Although the show wasn’t conceived that way, the director hopes to draw the audience in to the characters’ lives and make the humor more poignant. When asked if he had been able to update the scenarios or content in a similar way, since there have been dramatic social changes since the mid-nineties, he replied that they were limited by copyright law and contractual agreements, but that the themes are relevant and quite relatable…even without cellphones.

To wit, “If you’ve ever been in a relationship of any kind (and that’s all of you!), you’re guaranteed to enjoy this show!”

So there it is, while you may not be bringing the entire family (save it for Oliver!) there are no solidly solitary people out there – even comment trolls relate to others electronically – so I expect you all to make it to a production of CUTC’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change this weekend, from March 10 - 12 at 7:30 p.m. or a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Saturday or Sunday, at Parkland College’s Second Stage Theatre. Tickets for all performances are $15 each, and available online.  

About Rebecca Knaur...

Editor of Smile Politely's Arts section, rk makes a habit of drinking mind-altering beverages while writing opinions to be published. She has a highly developed sense of grammar and syntax, but little to no content filter. You can follow her on Twitter, @rknaur, but she rarely checks it, so feel free to reiterate tweets when you see her in person. 

* Kyle A. Thomas used the question as a platform for the following: "What we need in theatre and especially theatre in the Champaign-Urbana community is people! We need people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and identities to audition for shows and to add to the amazing amount of talent that already exists in this community. An engaged theatre community only makes the whole better. So get out there and audition!"