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Theater review: The Reluctant Lovers 

Between two ambitious projects, Neil Simon's three-act Last of the Red Hot Lovers and Athol Fugard's mighty Road to Mecca, The Warehouse is squeezing in a small patio farce at its storefront stage off Exit 25 in Cornelius. Directed by Rachel Jeffries, The Reluctant Lovers is a goofy rash of nobly repressed amorousness newly written by Jeffries with her husband Christian Hamilton.

The Lady is a true Charlestonian, with all the scruples and trepidations expected of widowhood back in 1899. Under some forgettable pretext, a witheringly stupid bumpkin named Jubal wanders purposefully into her garden. The purpose alights soon enough on Jubal's cousin, the dashing and mysterious Captain, who has been jilted by his one true love and is now preparing to renounce the world and romance forever. Until, of course, he feasts his peepers on the widow. With a daffy cousin of her own, Lucy, The Lady and her household will strike anyone over the age of three as the ideal fit for the consolable Captain and the lad in overalls.

Neither the Captain nor The Lady has eyes to see the inevitable until they have traversed an assortment of specious obstacles and mutual misunderstandings. Karen Martin bursts out of The Lady's mourning black with the most upright lack of subtlety you can imagine, triple underlining every change of emotion with her lovely face while limiting herself to a prim minimum of gesture. Her hero, Lou Dalessandro is altogether worthy of her adoration, whipping himself into a fine chiffon of earnestness, renunciation, jealousy, and devotion -- after formally introducing the cast and the comedy.

Dinika Peeples is hormone-driven enough as Lucy to properly breach propriety, and Andrew Adams plumbs the shallows of Jubal's peasant soul, layering on a hillbilly flavor worthy of Jim Nabors' artistry. Douglas Welton brings us the false humility and bookish sanctimony of Passim, a creepy schoolmaster who is one of the obstacles separating our protagonists from bliss. Jack Wilson is The Governor, the other antagonist, a more stately -- and ancient -- creep who offers The Lady avuncular legal advice while harboring dreams of matrimony.

Candor and naturalism have been banished to a different clime in this meticulous trinket. Refreshing.

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