BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Writer Paul Weitz’s previous play premiered by Second Stage Theatre was “Trust,” a thoughtful comedy starring Zach Braff as a dotcom millionaire in his 20s who now has everything and is miserable about it.
Weitz’s latest, “Lonely, I’m Not,” stars Topher Grace as a burnt-out corporate genius in his 20s who now has nothing and is miserable about it. Second Stage again premieres the play, which opened Monday.
Grace’s broke and troubled character, Porter, begins an unlikely affair with Heather (Olivia Thirlby), a blind (but somehow all-seeing) corporate executive on the rise who attempts to buck up his sad, anxious spirits. Their quiet romance eventually turns pensive when the stressed, depressed Porter cannot pull himself together sufficiently to attempt again the tightrope of success.
Crafted in brief scenes, the 90-minute dramedy involves four more actors who each depict several other characters. Among their various roles, Mark Blum smilingly portrays Porter’s deadbeat dad, Lisa Emery looks concerned as Heather’s protective mom, Maureen Sebastian is amusing as Heather’s clingy roomie and Christopher Jackson gives frat boy energy to a corporate joker.
Making a promising off Broadway debut, the slim, weedy and low-keyed Grace sprouts a beard and a believably melancholy air as Porter, who’s a nice guy so flattened by his inner woes that he’s sometimes prone on the floor. Wearing a pixie hairdo and an intense look of concentration, Thirlby neatly suggests the eerily self-possessed Heather’s fiercely independent nature.
Despite the actors’ skill, they cannot really bring these shallowly-written characters to life. Weitz’s wan account of two differently damaged people succoring each other simply possesses too many blanks in motivation and external forces to satisfy. Inside or out, “Lonely, I’m Not” registers as vague, dull writing.
Director Trip Cullman and set designer Mark Wendland conspire to give the surprisingly empty play at least some visual punch with a background that utilizes many different styles of typography that light up brightly as subject headers announcing each scene. It’s a smart tactic that cannot compensate for the sadly underwritten quality of Weitz’s story.
“Lonely, I’m Not” continues through May 27 at Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St., New York. Call (212) 246-4422 or visit www.2st.com.