Here’s the basic plot: not long after word of their breakup hits the interwebs, ex-mall cop (and current lonely loser) Bill (Rob Grabowski) kidnaps celebrity (ex)couple Kate Thomas (Mary Williamson) and Sam Lewis (Nick Delehanty), drugging them and dragging them to his shitty apartment for sketchy (and potentially dangerous) couples counseling with his Sam-and-Kate-obsessed teenaged friend Becky (Stephanie Shum).
Initially, it sounds like a concept that could wear thin rather quickly, but in playwright Joel Kim Booster’s “Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up,” what starts out as a seemingly lightweight comedy centered around celebrity worship and a tween-book-series-turned-movie-franchise (the wonderfully realized “Ghost Forest”) ever-so-slowly creeps its way into a much darker exploration of obsession, self-loathing and, ultimately, redemption (spoiler alert—there’s someone in the program with the title Violence Designer). And yet, in every disturbing corner that this production turns, its solid comedic core follows carefully throughout.
Williamson’s Kate is bitchy without being off-putting and the rather Keanu Reeves-ish Delehanty brings a charming upbeat-on-the-cusp-of-airheadedness to Sam. Grabowski’s Bill is both frighteningly imposing and endearingly earnest. At times we almost forget that he’s a kidnapper, which is a testament to Grabowski’s (mostly) quiet and deliberate delivery (his non-quiet moments are another story altogether). And Shum plays Becky like a tiny whirlwind of disconnected aggression and faux-ingratiating kindness. It’s a heady mix, and director Sarah Gitenstein (who just last year directed The New Colony’s popular “5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche” Off-Broadway) maintains a pace that defies audience distraction and crackles with comedic (and dramatic) timing.
Scenic designer John Wilson has gone all out here, with Bill’s living room (where the entire show takes place) giving off an air of depressive but comfortable lived-in grubbiness, from the worn floor to the stacks of books and DVDs tucked into various corners. And on one side of the stage, the all-important computer desk with Bill’s one connection to the outside world: the internet. Best of all, Bill’s monitor is facing the audience, so we can watch every click he makes as he navigates the digital world of Kate and Sam’s very public lives, reads Becky’s blog or engages in the ultimate lonely sad sack’s way to spend time: a game of Minesweeper.
For the most part, the ninety-minute show takes place in real time, with conversations passing between these four characters in this living room with surprising speed and naturalism. At opportune moments, scenes from the oft-mentioned fantasy films are stoically played out by Delehanty and Williamson while Grabowski and Shum watch from the couch, mesmerized. These moments have the potential to feel disruptive, but instead manage to heighten the moments they correspond to in “real life.”
Sure, there are plenty of plot holes to poke at: a butter knife is used in impossible ways, it often seems like if our celebrity captives put forth any effort at escaping they could probably overpower their captor with relative ease (despite his hulking presence) and we never really understand how Bill kidnapped these two high-profile celebrities and got them to his apartment undetected in the first place (aside from a mention of sedatives). But the fast-paced dialogue and consistently engrossing production easily push these minor quibbles to the side. Embracing and mocking celebrity and celebrity obsession in equal measure, “Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up” carefully (and successfully) walks a thin line between being a clever commentary on a society that invests more emotional outrage in poor casting decisions than poor international policy and an over-the-top dark comedy. (Zach Freeman)
The New Colony at Collaboraction’s Room 300 Theater, 1579 North Milwaukee, thenewcolony.org. $20. Through December 14.