STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
A boy who loves books meets a girl loves books. Will they also love each other?
“Michael & Edie,” the latest production at Villanova Theatre, tells the tale of two people trying to figure life out in the wake of seemingly senseless loss. They discover solace in the aisles of the bookstore where they work. Will they also find love?
The play, written by Rachel Bonds and directed by Barrymore award-winner and VU Assistant Professor James Ijames, evokes a world of first dates and mixed tapes, spiriting audiences back to the wonderfully weird and wild days of adolescence, said Kimberly Reilly, the Theatre’s marketing director.
Sophia Barrett, who’s from Hollywood, Florida and now lives in Bryn Mawr, plays Edie, a young woman with a wild imagination, who has difficulties with relationships.
“Edie has dreams and fantasies as large as the books she reads,” Barrett said. “She struggles with connecting with people. She tries to put herself out there, but pain from her past holds her back from creating real relationships.”
In many ways, Barrett relates to Edie.
“She’s awkward at times and so expressive and creative,” she said. “I also find that dealing with pain makes it difficult to come out of your shell and have the ability to open to people. I think that’s the case for most people.”
The challenge in this role for Barrett is emotional.
“The struggle is being in a generally happy place in my own life and having to face some of the harder moments in this play and feel that familiar pain for my character,” she said.
Something that’s not a struggle, though, is working with Mitchell Bloom, her real-life friend and roommate, who plays Michael. Barrett and Bloom, both acting scholars in VU’s theater Master’s degree program, previously played a couple in “Big Love.”
Bloom, who’s originally from Hollidaysburg, said that Michael is, forgive the metaphor, an open book. A recent transplant to the city, he lives in a tiny, cramped apartment and constantly runs late for work.
“He’s beautifully optimistic and imaginative,” Bloom said. “He approaches the world like a love letter, composing his own fanciful reality around what he wishes to be true.”
That makes him “slightly untethered from the reality of his life,” Bloom said, even as he seeks connection through his relationship with Edie. As he tries to connect, he’s also distancing himself from his home and family, “in an effort to disconnect from the past in favor of the future.”
Bloom can relate to Michael on some levels.
“He likes books; so do I. He has a vivid imagination; so do I,” Bloom said. “He’s not the smoothest when it comes to making moves; neither am I.”
It’s fun to inhabit him, even the unfamiliar parts, because Bloom loves acting.
“I love the entire process of bringing a play to life and breathing a character into space and time,” he said. “Acting has taught me so many useful lessons that I try to carry into my everyday life: be present, listen, and breathe.”
And there’s nothing like that moment, after the stage manager calls places, and the play is about to begin. Bloom centers himself by repeating some of the text in his head.
“It closes out the rest of the day,” he said. “When the lights come up, it just feels like an invitation to suspend your own reality and to open yourself up to a roomful of people who have decided to do the same by coming to see a play.”
Barrett loves the rush when the show begins, and then some.
“I feel electric when the lights first come up,” she said. “It’s also not half bad getting to fall in love with one of my best friends on stage again.”
Both are hoping people will fall in love with the show, or at least have some fun and escape hectic days.
“Life is busy,” Bloom said. “Theater doesn’t have to be.”
And, around Valentine’s Day, it’s nice to see a play that focuses on affairs of the heart.
“It’s a love story about people who love stories,” Bloom said. “It’s a romance about near misses and what could be.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Michael and Edie”
When: Preview 8 p.m. Feb. 10; opening night 8 p.m. Feb. 11; runs 8 p.m. Tue.-Sat and 2 p.m. Sun. through Feb. 22.
Where: Villanova Theatre, Vasey Hall, 800 Lancaster Ave., Villanova.
Tickets: $21-$25, discounts for seniors, students, and groups.
Info.: Call (610) 519-7474 or visit villanovatheatre.org.