The Irish woman is now English, and the time is the 1990s. Eileen (Elizabeth Knowelden), an average-looking barmaid from Leeds, meets Ali (Steven Schub) on a park bench. She’s hoping to shake the influence of her risk-averse mother, and he’d like to sleep with at least one Englishwoman, having become disgusted by the “whores” he’s bedded among his own people. No computer dating service would ever match them, but in Lichtblau’s skilled hands, the courting and eventual relationship between these two make perfect sense.
Prior to their meeting, however, we’ve already witnessed separate exchanges between Ali and a third character, Dov (Allen Wasserman), an Israeli agent, as well as between Eileen and Dov. Within two minutes, we know a crime has been committed, although we don’t know why or how. In “The English Bride,” the past illuminates the present, and the present anticipates the past.
Scenes of intimacy and joy are followed by tense encounters, which are followed by scenes of romantic bliss. Rather than slow the momentum, or impede the narrative, the liberal use of time allows the play to unfold gracefully, without the burden of an ever-ticking clock.
Equally welcome is the absence of political discussion. A stage in North Hollywood, or off Broadway, where the play debuted in 2013, is not the same as is a conference table in Geneva. There are no charges of Israeli aggression, no reciting of Palestinian atrocities. The play doesn’t get bogged down in the kinds of debates that one can watch any day on CNN or Fox News.
Dov doesn’t hate Ali, and Ali, an Israeli Arab, doesn’t hate Jews. For her part, Eileen is barely aware of anything outside her working-class bubble. In this case, the Middle East is simple; it’s people who are complicated.
Lichtblau, who attended the opening night performance, could not have hoped for a better production. Pablo Santiago’s lighting design is dark and moody during the interrogation scenes and bright and airy when the couple is wooing each other in the park. The metallic gray set, by Kaitlyn Pietras, conveys the feel of an interrogation room.
Credit dialect coach Amy Chaffee for Schub’s Arabic accent, which sounded near perfect to my ears. Debora Roventini’s graphic design features a quite clever rendering of a police lineup.
A successful staging of “The English Bride” must include a convincing love affair between Ali and Eileen. Without that, we lose interest in the rest of the story. Director Marya Mazor has done her work well. Whether rolling on the floor in a sexy embrace, effortlessly flirting, or planning their future, these two truly seem meant for each other.
Reflecting on what might have been, her sad eyes staring at some fixed point in the distance, Knowelden offers a moving portrait of Eileen. The actress makes us root for this young woman, though we are aware that things likely won’t go her way in the end. As Ali, Schub is angry, tender, and passionate. Always a character, never a caricature. Wasserman’s Dov is humane, sympathetic, and practical.
“The English Bride” runs Thursdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m., and Sundays at 7 p.m. through April 26. Tickets are $34 general admission and $17.50 for students and seniors. For tickets, call (818) 761-8838 or go online at http://www.roadtheatre.org. The Road on Magnolia is located in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
Photo: Steven Schub (on floor), Allen Wasserman and Elizabeth Knowelden star in the Road Theater Company's West Coast premiere production of "THE ENGLISH BRIDE," by Lucile Lichtblau and directed by Marya Mazor and now playing at the Road Theatre on Magnolia in North Hollywood.
Photo: (From Left to Right) Allen Wasserman, Elizabeth Knowelden and Steven Schub star in the Road Theater Company's West Coast premiere production of "THE ENGLISH BRIDE," by Lucile Lichtblau and directed by Marya Mazor and now playing at the Road Theatre on Magnolia in North Hollywood.
PHOTO CREDIT: John A. Lorenz