If someone says they are NOT a certain way adamantly enough, chances are that someone is exactly that way. It’s like falling for that guy that believes romance is dead and shows it by proclaiming it John Cusack-style at your window, with boombox over his head. Less Than 50% is a very romantic self-proclaimed “unromantic comedy”. It is a self-reflective love story about Gianmarco Soresi (playwright and actor) and his journey to write and mount this play in the New York Fringe Festival as a way to hold on to, re-kindle, and re-live the complicated love affair he has with his longtime best friend and (ex-)girlfriend Laura Catalano (Hannah Hale).
The audience gets an all-access pass into the motivations of the characters from the characters’ own mouths. In the opening scene of the play, we watch the meet-cute between Gianmarco and Laura at their theatre conservatory. Then, in a later scene, we watch them debate whether such a conventional opening is too traditional for this nontraditional romantic comedy – making the audience question whether the opening was a represented truth or a false illusion that told a better story.
It’s a play about a play about a relationship, with the “real” actors/characters playing themselves. As all things meta, it may get confusing at times, and yes, sometimes appears to be narratively inconsistent, but if you’re trying to pick at these inconsistencies like a forensic scientist, then you’re missing the larger point of the piece: that love can be wonderful to one and terrifying to another. Sometimes it’s cut and dry and easy to unpack; other times it takes an 80 minute play (and a lot of therapy) to figure out why things didn’t, or couldn’t, pan out.
Director Jen Wineman makes wonderful use of the modest space, effectively creating multiple worlds through intimate blocking and creative movement. Most enjoyable was the play told again through a fast-forward montage, solidifying narrative plot points and highlighting golden moments between the two characters. Hannah Hale has wonderful presence on stage, with such an effortless charm that any additional effort on her part can be too much in a space so small. However, that said, her undeniable talent and vulnerability was most felt on her closing scene as she finally develops her own sense of agency, claiming her space in the story as more than Gianmarco’s “prop”, choosing to leave the narrative for good (maybe).
Sometimes love does not win over fears of, in Gianmarco’s case, abandonment and need for self-preservation. But there is nothing more romantic than two people trying their darnedest to get it right, time and time again, night after night on stage. There will be no spoilers in this review since much of the beauty of the work is in the surprises layered throughout the piece; however, there were a few moments leading up to the ending that could have made for a more believable and satisfying conclusion, that has nothing to do with happily ever afters. Nonetheless, Less Than 50% is a wonderful piece of storytelling with immense heart that benefits greatly from the biting humor and believability Soresi brings beautifully to the stage. A laugh-out-loud great night at the theatre.