‘Mad Love’ is a romantic comedy without much romance

Alex Trow and Graham Techler co-star in "Mad Love," which is at the NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch through Nov. 20.

SUZANNE BARABAS

Alex Trow and Graham Techler co-star in “Mad Love,” which is at the NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch through Nov. 20.

Sloane and Brandon are an odd couple. She’s a high-powered, high-strung businesswoman, 26 and rich, totally Type A. He’s the ultimate Type B, a nice-guy schoolteacher who lives with his brother Doug in a pigsty of an apartment, with a refrigerator that doesn’tseem to have anything in it except beer.

Brandon and Doug are another odd couple, actually, with Brandon, the long-suffering Felix, trying to live a responsible adult life, and slacker Doug, the Oscar, stuck in terminal adolescence.

Marisa Smith’s romantic comedy — which is being presented in New Jersey for the first time at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Nov. 20, with Evan Bergman directing —begins withsomething that could only happen in a romantic comedy. Sloane (Alex Trow) and Brandon (Graham Techler) barely know each other; they’ve dated, but are not even sure if they’ve reached the stage of their relationship where they should be considered boyfriend and girlfriend. Yet Sloane asks him for some of his sperm, to freeze, in case she needs it later.

She’s “not the marrying kind,” she says, but wants to have the sperm ready to go in case she feels her biological clock ticking and wants to use it, at some point.”I think it’s tragic when a woman exits the universe without having popped one out,” she says.

She claims it’s just a “business transaction,” and nothing more.Brandon is, understandably, freaked out, and through the course of the play, backs away from Sloane, who, being Type A, is undeterred, and just pushes harder to get what she wants.

The play takes a bit of a serious turn when we learn about a traumatic event in Sloane’s past, as well as the fact that Brandon lives with Doug (Jared Michael Delaney) because Doug needs him: He’s suffering from brain damage. Meanwhile, Brandonhires a hooker for Doug, for his birthday: We’re not sure, though, if Katerina (Brittany Proia) has a heart of gold or is a ruthless scam artist, with a scheme of separating Brandon and Doug from a super-rare, super-expensive baseball card that could provide them with some much-needed financial relief.

I didn’t believe any of it. The sperm-donor storyline wascontrived. Doug’s brain damage wasnever really illustrated— he seemed just as sane as anyone else here. And the way the baseball card issue wasresolved didn’t make any sense; I can’t say why, because it would ruin the surprise, but trust me on this.

It didn’t help, either, that Brandon doesn’t have much of a personality, though Smith does give him a cute quirk — a tendency to break into celebrity impersonations (Jimmy Stewart, Woody Allen) at random times.

There were certainly some amusing or moving moments along the way. But it helps in a romantic comedy to have a couple you can root for, and icy-cold Sloane and lukewarm Brandon — a guy who, furthermore, buys his brain-damaged brother a hooker for his birthday — didn’t fit the bill.

The best thing about the show was the jigsaw puzzle-like set design, by Jessica Parks. Words related to the play (“beer,” “bills,” “pizza”) were written in bright colors on the walls. And sets were changed between scenes in a kind of unfolding processes, with walls sliding out from the back or sides of the stage. Delaney broke character to cheerfully handle the set changes himself — moving the walls and adding the props — and theatrically engaged the audience while doing so.

“Mad Love” is at NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch through Nov. 20; visit njrep.org.

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