Fifty-ish Andy goes looking for love in the standard 21st-century way: he advertises.
Val, a nurse in her mid-40s, answers Andy’s dating ad and agrees to meet him in person — only she brings her friend Nina along for moral support. Likewise, Andy shores up his nerve by asking his friend Matthew to accompany him in Central Alberta Theatre’s next production, the romantic comedy, Looking.
Anyone who’s seen the movie When Harry Met Sally can probably guess what happens next.
That’s right — Matthew and Nina fall for each other in a big way.
Andy and Val? Not so much.
This Norm Foster play opens on Thursday at the Nickle Studio, upstairs at the Memorial Centre.
It is about what happens when middle-aged people, with a mountain of emotional baggage between them, return to the scary, unpredictable world of dating.
Andy is a “sweetheart,” said director Lynn Olson, but his better qualities aren’t immediately apparent to Val.
He has a failed marriage, grown children and a financially shaky business to contend with. “He’s unsure of himself because he hasn’t been in a relationship for a long time,” she added, “so he trying to be something he’s not.”
Val is also getting over a first marriage, and is expecting “magic” from her next relationship. But the rockets and fireworks just aren’t going off when she meets Andy, said Olson.
Matthew and Nina, on the other hand, find themselves overcome by an explosion of strong emotions when they meet each other — which is a little unexpected, since neither is looking for a serious thing.
“They’re very content with just short-term relationships with no commitments and no pressure,” said Olson.
Although Andy and Val aren’t particularly game for a second date, the two end up seeing each other again to facilitate their friends’ growing attraction.
“The play is very, very relatable,” said Olson, who believes anyone who’s ever faced the pitfalls of dating will empathize. “People will see themselves in these characters, or will have had a friend who’s gone through the same thing . . . .”
Foster’s play is both funny and serious, in that there are touching scenes that will resonate with audience members, she added. “These days, there are a lot of (older) people looking for love. So many people are divorced and have been in one or even two marriages and still haven’t found that perfect person yet.
“I think this play kind of gives people a little bit of hope, especially people who’re going through that kind of struggle,” said Olson. Although Foster doesn’t deliver any definitive romantic answers, Looking does seems to suggest that many different roads can lead to love. “There’s no simple cut and dried path . . . there are a lot of ups and downs for everyone.”
This is Olson’s first time directing a full-length play, so she’s thrilled to be working with four veteran community actors — Andy is played by Jim Claggett, Val by Cynthia Edwards, Matt by Robert Van der Linden and Nina by Nicole Orr.
“They’re very good,” said Olson, whose biggest challenge has been adapting this production to the Nickle Studio’s no-walls “alley” stage, which has the audience sitting on both sides of the action.
So far, she’s surmounting problems with support from experienced lighting technician Matt Levesque, as well as veteran Central Alberta director Tanya Ryga, who’s her mentor.
“I’m really looking forward to the outcome,” said Olson, who believes audience members will appreciate this emotional roller-coater ride of a story.