MELROSE STORIES by T.J. Walsh

TCU's 'Stories' has happy ending in this romantic comedy
LOVE AND LAUGHS CONQUER ALL OBSTACLES IN ADVENTUROUS COMEDY


Dallas Morning News
by Lawson Taitte, Theatre Critic

Melrose Stories
has two strikes against it, right from the start. The hero narrates the story by talking to the audience. A lot. And the character is a writer - seldom a good sign.

But no inning is over until the final out, and playwright T.J. Walsh keeps swinging hard and gets a hit - maybe not a home run but definitely a triple.

Texas Christian University, where Mr. Walsh teaches, gave Melrose Stories its world premiere Wednesday under the playwright's direction. This romantic comedy dares a lot. Its tone ranges from sitcom humor to a magical ending right out of Jacobean romance. And it baldly lets you know it's doing just that. A beneficent ghost wanders through the action, and the plot involves a big secret. (The savvy will guess it immediately, yet the answer still feels unprepared for when it comes out - just as Mr. Walsh planned.)

The action mostly takes place in a Los Angeles bookstore, though it also wanders freely through space and time. The narrator, a New York novelist named T.D. Kellogg (Clint Gage), has been suffering from writer's block for more than a decade after his successful debut. His aunt (Katie O'Brien) dies and leaves him her heavily mortgaged store. T.D. falls in love with the place, the staff and - in a romantic way - the manager, Rose (Michelle Martinez).

The scenes in the store do feel a lot like high-quality TV comedy, with the employees and regulars trading quips and exuding hormones. Mr. Walsh halts objections by having the funny guy, Walter (C.J. Meeks), quarrel endlessly with Wilma (Jaclyn Napier), a feminist grad student who's writing her thesis on sitcoms.

Mr. Walsh has looked past recent romantic comedies for models and gone straight to the top. The juxtaposition of low popular humor with serious characters and situations feels Shakespearean, in a nicely unpretentious way. The laughs are there, and the deeper emotions as well.

Perhaps the mystical happy ending doesn't have quite the tearful payoff it should - but it could just be that the student actors aren't always the right age or in possession of enough technique to make the improbable convincing.

A number of cast members are outstanding anyway. Ms. O'Brien radiates the right kind of hopeful aura, Mr. Meeks is hilarious, and Scott Rickels as the gay store employee has a nice offhand charm.

Melrose Stories is a real contribution to the vanishing genre of romantic comedy.