“These short scenes are easier to write!” exclaimed an audience member in front of me, in an audible whisper, during Lonely, I’m Not—a new rom-com now playing at Second Stage. She was right about one thing: This drama, written by Paul Weitz of American Pie fame, has the snappy storytelling of a wayward screenplay that woke up one day and found itself onstage. And yet, even in what may not be its intended medium, Lonely, I’m Not (directed by Trip Cullman) is witty, carefully crafted, and entertaining—not an easy feat by any means. (It is also thankfully lacking in amorous episodes involving pastry.)
Porter (Topher Grace), a former corporate “ninja,” has been crawling reluctantly out of a self-induced workaholic meltdown: Four years ago, he suffered violent hallucinations during a presentation to Citibank officials, resulting in the ruin of his marriage, career, and one unlucky pair of pants. Now, he spends long hours lying on the floor of his L.A. condo, contemplating the “abyss”—that is, until he goes on a blind date with Heather (Olivia Thirlby), a talented, career-hungry media analyst who happens to be actually blind herself. Romantic comedy ensues: Boy gets girl; boy loses girl due to neurotic episode after his father’s incarceration for perpetrating fraud in the exotic-pets market; boy attempts to win girl back.
Cullman’s slick production moves the tale along succinctly, with amusing neon titles alerting us to each scene’s central concern (“Caffeine,” “Job Interview,” “Dad”). And the play even offers some meditations on the nature of work: Porter, unable to stomach the finance world after glimpsing the emptiness of a future in derivatives, takes a cue from his cleaning lady to rethink his idea of meaningful labor. Heather’s career, temporarily snagged when she encounters workplace prejudice, is also forced to move in unexpected directions, prompting her to see the value in not working. It may sound like a screenplay, but plenty of playwrights could learn a thing or two about light comedy from Weitz’s crisp comic banter and narrative discipline.