In the Octagon Theatre's play Looking, an ending before something really begins and a bit of a muddle getting to the finish line is par for the course.
That's not to say there is anything muddled about this funny, finely tuned production.
Looking is about four single, middle-aged people who meet in a pub called The Private Dick, two of them there to support their mates in the fraught field of first-time blind dating.
Canadian playwright Norm Foster's plays are known for their humour and insight into ordinary people's lives. In the wrong hands, his trademark irony, wit and saucy action, and the opportunity to sensitively expose characters' insecurities, can be sacrificed to cheap-laughs vulgarity. But in the hands of a good director, a comedy like Looking offers so much more, as the Octagon's production proves. Director Cynthia Cahill keeps a measured hand on this play of many acts, treating the material with intelligence and respect.
The characters are brilliantly cast.
Nick Green plays hard-up, hapless, brash Andy to the exact measure of irritating, funny and likeable. Andy's humble, almost bumbling, near-soliloquy at the play's end is a tribute to Green's acting talent as much as the director's decision to go for heartfelt rather than schmaltz.
Andy's date is Val, delightfully played by Sonja Jelsma who never puts a foot wrong. Val is proud, slightly prissy and so determined not to get hurt she fails to see what happiness might look like.
Jelsma's timing and control of nuance, facially, physically or vocally, is impressive.
Nina, played by Juleigh Parker, is a tough-talking ballbreaker who uses sex as a substitute for love and is in danger of not recognising the real thing, even when it bowls her over. Parker plays the brazen part to perfection, taking it to the top without allowing it to topple into farce.
Andy's dip into the dating scene is begrudgingly aided and abetted by his friend, Matt, the smooth operating, cynical, jazz DJ, played by Graham Smith in an impeccable performance where even an opening night fumble of lines becomes part of the character's faux nonchalance.
The interactions at "the Dick", tennis club and gym are funny and sharp, but a wistful side of looking-for-love in middle age underscores the play.
The set, designed by Smith who is also director Cahill's husband, is clever. With Dave Williams' lighting skills, hard walls and oblique entry points convincingly accommodate a pub, street, gym or moody jazz radio studio.
Looking is everything that is good about local comedy theatre - superbly acted, directed and staged, and side-splittingly funny.
- July 8-24 Thursday to Sundays. Show and dinner, or show only. Tickets Piggery Bookshop, Walton St, Whangarei. Phone: 438 5481; www.octagontheatre.nz