An American in Paris 

Chamberlayne Actors' "13th of Paris" falls short by mixing genres.

click to enlarge (From left) E. Louise Mason, Payton Drake, Thomas Eichler and Alex Ireys provide some laughs, but "13th of Paris" quickly veers into melodrama.
  • (From left) E. Louise Mason, Payton Drake, Thomas Eichler and Alex Ireys provide some laughs, but "13th of Paris" quickly veers into melodrama.

Like Woody Allen's minor masterpiece, "Midnight in Paris," "The 13th of Paris," now playing at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, uses Parisians of another generation as a device to teach a young man about love.

While Allen's film is an enjoyable watch, offering small insights into the nature of love, "The 13th of Paris" jumps the train while attempting a much more dramatic payoff.

In the midst of a love crisis, protagonist Vincent flies to visit the Parisian apartment where his grandparents once lived. The ghost of Vincent's grandfather Jacques has returned to teach him the ways of love, hopping back in time to his own first meeting with Vincent's grandmother.

But playwright Mat Smart's decent premise soon veers wildly into melodrama, his script loaded with more ridiculousness than Nicki Minaj's wardrobe. Why does Vincent, who never actually met his grandparents, feel such a strong connection to them? How is it possible for Vincent to know next to nothing of his girlfriend's past after dating more than three years? Why is Vincent so incredulous that his grandparents' relationship could last 15 years?

Alex Ireys is amusing as Vincent, unafraid to dive into the role of a protagonist who is kind of a jerk. Though Thomas Eichler sports a terrible French accent, his performance as Jacques elicits some of the show's best laughs. E. Louise Mason injects the show with a bit of fun as drunken friend Jessica. Wobbling in high heels, Mason is as unpredictable as her party dress is short. While adding Jessica and husband William (Tyler S. Weaver) to the play initially seems to offer an intriguing twist, the script never goes anywhere.

Set designer Lin Heath's cafe scene and Paris backdrop are well executed, but the apartment's bright pink color scheme would better fit Barbie's playhouse than a Parisian studio unchanged in decades. Buddy Bishop's sound design only heightens the more absurd elements of the play. When a character makes a reference to the death of Vincent's grandparents, dramatic music plays, as if the audience might otherwise be confused about how to feel.

When executed well, breaking genre can create some fascinating works of art. But when "The 13th of Paris" attempts to make the gigantic leap from light romantic comedy to devastating drama, it simply doesn't work. S

"The 13th of Paris" plays at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre through Feb. 3. Fo information, visit cattheatre.com or call 262-9760.

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