Phoenix Is a Brittle Romantic Comedy Revived by the Rattlestick


When is a one-night stand not a one-night stand? When it leads to the abortion clinic. That is, according to Scott Organ’s Phoenix, a brittle romantic comedy revived by the Rattlestick and starring Julia Stiles and James Wirt.

Stiles plays Sue, a surly traveling nurse, who never thought twice about her night of passion with Bruce (Wirt) — until she took a pregnancy test. The pair meets for what he thinks is a second date, she drops the bombshell, and he improbably follows her to an abortion clinic in Phoenix. (Bruce is generally one of those improbable rom-com characters we see so often onstage and screen: quirky, constantly available, and endlessly patient in the face of Sue’s rebuffs.) In the Grand Canyon state, Bruce and Sue discuss love, life, and time-traveling aliens, until he abruptly becomes less charming and more aggressive, and the two have a traumatic falling-out.

If this sounds a little like lots of other things you’ve seen, it is. Phoenix is a slick affair, hitting the requisite plot points but offering little originality (from Knocked Up to this summer’s Obvious Child, unplanned pregnancy as romantic-comedy fodder no longer feels fresh). Stiles and Wirt are sincere but self-conscious onstage, and Organ’s dialogue — repetitive, self-aware banter — doesn’t help.

“I am beginning to like you less,” Bruce says to Sue after their umpteenth tiff. Long before the end, I felt just the same.