PORTLAND — Spring is finally here. Flowers are starting to bloom, and the creatures in the animal kingdom have begun their courtship dances.

In the human world, many who put their search for love on hold during the hibernating winter months will once again renew their quest for the perfect mate.

Love is in the air, but as most can attest, the pursuit of a surefire relationship is not always an easy or quick one. Mad Horse Theatre explores the dynamics of relationships in Nicky Silver’s “The Maiden’s Prayer.”

In our day-to-day lives, we navigate several different kinds of relationships, including relationships between parents and children, siblings, friends, co-workers, lovers and ex-lovers. Each has their own struggles and can often leave the sanest individuals feeling neurotic.

“The Maiden’s Prayer” primarily centers on the interconnected lives of four characters: Paul, Libby, Cynthia and Taylor.

Paul fell in love at first sight with Taylor at age 6, when the two became next-door neighbors. Libby met the grown-up Taylor at an AA meeting. But the mutual object of their affections is stolen away by Libby’s sister, Cynthia.

A fifth character, Andrew (one of Paul’s serial flings), adds comedy as a stereotypical gold digger who judges his prospective partners on the size of the man’s apartment and how many premium cable channels he has.

The play opens outside Taylor’s family home. Paul tells how he first met Taylor and convinced him to act out the soap opera “Dark Shadows,” with Taylor playing the alluring vampire, Barnabas Collins, and Paul taking on the role of Angelique, a witch obsessed with winning Barnabas’ heart.

Silver cleverly elicits laughter with Paul’s recollection, all the while establishing the fine line between love and obsession.

Libby, who is drunk and visibly distraught, interrupts Paul’s musings. It’s Cynthia’s and Taylor’s wedding day, and Libby, who has a tumultuous relationship with her sister, is convinced Cynthia tricked Taylor into marrying her by becoming pregnant. This first meeting between Paul and Libby begins their dysfunctional friendship.

As the play goes on, Silver delves into the complexities of each relationship, showing how the characters’ past relationships affect their current relationships and the choices they make.

Mad Horse experienced its own form of relationship drama Saturday night. Craig Bowden, who stars as Paul in the production, was unable to perform, requiring director Peter Brown to step into the role, script in hand.

Brown frequently had to refer to the script for lines, which admittedly proved a bit distracting and detracted from his interaction with the other characters. But the substitution didn’t undermine the quality of the production. Despite the obstacles, Brown managed to deliver heartfelt emotion and well-timed quips.

The remaining four cast members showed off their acting mettle. Lisa Muller-Jones delivered a passionate and funny performance as Libby. Burke Brimmer (Taylor) and Elizabeth Chambers (Cynthia) captured the layered complexity of their troubled characters. And David Timm was a riot as the superficial flutter bug, Andrew.

“The Maiden’s Prayer” brings out the dramatic raw emotion of relationships and also comically reveals the shallowness that can influence our choices when seeking the romanticized love of “Bronte novels and teenage songs.”

Even with the backstage drama, Mad Horse’s production hits the mark with a thought-provoking and entertaining look at relationships and love of all types.

 

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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