The show: "Elevada" at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven.
What makes it special: World premiere of a play by Sheila Callaghan.
First impressions: In the beginning, the first date between Ramona and Khalil looks like it's not going well. She's "a bubbly fountain of flirty charm" and he's a bit socially stunted in this real-world situation. (A techie entrepreneur, he's a virtual kind of guy.)
Yet despite his dandruff and twitchy knee and her charismatic digestive system, they're made for each other, at least the people they want to become, or are becoming, but won't be for long. It's all rather in flux and a little complicated given that he is selling his identity to a corporation for a kazillion dollars, and she has, well, let's just say she's finding a new her, too.
But in Callaghan's fresh, funny, au courant romantic comedy, which is receiving a smashing production at the Rep, you hope things work out. But can it really in this age of anxiety? Can you still find flight while being grounded?
What's it about? Following that initially awkward first "date," Ramona (Laurel Casillo) and Khalil (Alfredo Narciso) develop a off-beat relationship much to the confusion and consternation of her practical, care-giving, efficient sister June (Keira Naughton) and his in-recovery, easy-going buddy Owen (Greg Keller).
Callaghan writes some of the most engaging dialogue I have heard in a long time, capturing the rhythms of contemporary speech and the quirks of character. And then it suddenly pivots with an observation or an insight that makes you gasp in its honesty and beauty.
The play, under Jackson Gay's direction that is both specific and invisible, gets a gorgeous production. Kurtis Boetcher's simple-yet-expansive scenic design captures the necessary details that define raw urban spaces while allowing flights of fancy — and flight. The show's look is enriched by Shawn Boyle's kinetic projection design that makes you feel life isn't stopping for a second. Tyler Micoleau's lighting, Kate Marvin's sound and Steve M. Rotramel's costumes also add to the contemporary authenticity.
But giving the play its heart and soul are the terrific performances of the quartet of actors, especially Casillo's Romana. The balance of vulnerability and strength brought to mind Laura Esterman's performance in "Marvin's Room" years ago at Hartford Stage in its ability to balance tenderness, hope and fear in an idiosyncratic narrative. Narciso's Khalil's growth from social media loner to brave new humanist redefines a modern romantic hero. Naughton's June revels in the comic and not-so-funny push-pull of control and need. And Greg Keller's Owen is a not-so-slack slacker that delivers some of the funniest moments with a sublime nonchalance.
Reservations: The final scene still needs work. It doesn't quite earn its emotional ending.
What does the title mean? It's a tango term, meaning stepping high in order to minimize contact with the ground. Callaghan's play works on both levels as well,
Who will like it? Modern romantics.
Who won't? Those who feel alienated enough by the hyper-fast world.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Journey of changing identities in changing times result in Sic Transit Glorious.
The basics: The show runs through May 16 at Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. The play runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one intermission. Information: 203-432-1234 and yalerep.org.