A Romance from 'Hell', in a Nice Way

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Sir Windsorbach Productions emerged onto the San Francisco Bay Area theater scene this February with Made in China, writer/composer/star Nicholas Weinbach's quirky musical romantic comedy about a deadpan, old-fashioned, naive young man who meets the girl of his dreams through quasi-supernatural means. Now it unveils the follow-up, A Match Made in Hell, which is also a quirky musical romantic comedy in which a deadpan, old-fashioned, naive young man meets the girl of his dreams through quasi-supernatural means. This one, however, is written and composed by Nicholas' twin brother Max Weinbach, who also stars. In fact, Hell predates China, and a one-act version of the show a few years ago is what inspired Nicholas to write his musical, according to a blog entry about the creative process.

In addition to writing, composing and producing A Match Made in Hell, Max Weinbach stars as Mark, an earnest and awkward "tiny man in a tiny suit" who wants to meet a nice girl, but is too shy to talk to anyone he's attracted to. Lucy has a similar problem; although she's beautiful and gets hit on a lot, it's always by jerks, because the nice guys are either taken or too timid to talk to her. How can these two young romantics connect? Well, that's where the Devil comes in. Suddenly concerned about his reputation, the Devil wants people to know that he's not such a bad guy, and he decides that maybe it would help if he did something nice for somebody for once. Getting Mark and Lucy together becomes his pet project.


Nicholas Weinbach and the ensemble.

Max Weinbach's Mark has a sort of somber, introverted charm. With a ponytail wig and a goatee, Nicholas Weinbach is pricelessly melodramatic (in a good way) as the Devil, too broodingly self-involved to notice that his faithful, nameless Minion (a glum, soft-spoken Aaron Vanderbeek) is hopelessly in love with him. Alison Kawa is cute, confident and charismatic as Lucy and would be perfectly cast in the role if this show were not a musical, but she has a lot of trouble making herself heard and staying on key.

Played by a solid 10-piece orchestra conducted by Daniel Alley, Max Weinbach's songs mix pleasant, almost Tin Pan Alley-style melodies with busy, convoluted orchestrations and vocal parts that overlap in hard-to-follow ways. Ultimately there are too darned many of them and they start to feel like filler, especially in the second act. It's two hours and 40 minutes, a respectable length for a musical, but doesn't have enough substance to be that long.

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Davern Wright is amusing as Mark's friend Harry, a condescending jerk who's smarmy with the ladies, but whose obnoxiousness might in some way be helpful in drawing Mark out of his shell. (He's fond of calling Mark "butt-brain.") Haley Goldstein is a lively presence as a sarcastic, dissatisfied waitress who's awfully free with her advice, and Katy Yost is an energetic presence as Lucy's best friend, who doesn't have a whole lot to do in the story. There's also an ensemble of five filling out the world of passers-by, cafe customers and romantic prospects.


Davern Wright and Max Weinbach.

The set by DL Soares and Hannah Barnard-Henke is very basic, just some small tables and a cloth-walled facade of a house that oddly never really becomes a relevant location as a house, but is utilized for demonic shadows in Hell.

Directed by Nicholas Weinbach, the pace is sometimes slack, particularly in transitions. There are some silent scenes of physical comedy that are charming but not tight enough to be funny. Other gags don't work at all, less because the joke isn't funny than because it's executed so awkwardly that it's hard to reconstruct what the joke is supposed to be. Particularly confusing are a couple of times that seem intended to break the fourth wall, such as a tech guy coming out to apologize for thunder and darkness after someone takes god's name in vain.


Aaron Vanderbeek and Nicholas Weinbach.

When Mark is trying to talk to women, he sometimes finds himself shadowed by a doppelganger in a matching suit with an expressionless white mask over his face (played by Nicholas). This figure mimics Mark's movements and sometimes manipulates them like a puppeteer, distracting Mark with its presence and drawing him into a fight-dance. It's not at all clear what the heck is going on from the way that it's played (always in wordless instrumental passages), but if you look in the cast list you can see that this character is intended to be Mark's Nerves getting the better of him.

The comedy's hit or miss, but when it hits it's a lot of fun. This play shares with Made in China a running gag about the fake word "shnip": "She shnips at least three times a week." The women's over-the-top lust for the Devil when he goes undercover is hysterical and refreshing. Although so understated that you might miss it, the Devil's habit of malapropisms is clever. ("There's no two buts about it.") What the show lacks in polish it doesn't quite make up for in quirky charm, but it comes close enough to be entertaining.

A Match Made in Hell runs through September 14, 2013 at Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit matchmadeinhellmusical.com.

All photos by Riki Feldmann.