Let's hear it for likable losers. Not the self-pitying sad sacks and creepy men-children that populate the résumés of Seth Rogen and Paul Giamatti, but the pleasant dope who for some reason—chronic anxiety, general incompetence or an excessive affection for the reefer—never seem to make it very far up the ladder of adult achievement. I'd much rather talk to those guys than Philip Seymour Hoffman's latest seething sociopath.
Jack, a middle-aged New York limo driver with ambitions of driving for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is one of those guys. He was played by Hoffman in a recent off-Broadway production and subsequent film (in Hoffman's typically creepy style), but I don't think the playwright, Bob Glaudini, had a creep in mind. Jack is a stoner with his hair twisted into halfhearted nascent dreads, who plays the Melodians' "Rivers of Babylon" so often that the cassette has stretched and the music warbles ominously. As played by Todd Van Voris in Artists Rep's production of this romantic comedy (directed by Allen Nause), he comes across as a genuinely nice guy, whom you'd be happy to have haul your rich self around.
When Jack is introduced to Connie (Emily Sahler Beleele), a morbid and mousy co-worker of his best friend's wife, he begins a hesitant and clumsy courtship. Connie wants to go boating, so he learns to swim. She'd like to be cooked for, so he obsessively braises and chops. Their relationship's slow blossoming is charming, but less riveting to watch than the troubled marriage of his best friend and fellow driver, Clyde (John San Nicolas), and his wife, Lucy (Tai Simmons). Clyde and Lucy are aspirational types, striving to obtain better coffee and better weed, as impassioned in their marriage as in their trespasses. Their exertion in their work and tendency to inflict cruelty on one another feels truer than Jack's fumbling romance, and their persistence in the face of repeated mutual betrayal is as convincing a defense of the value of marriage as any I've seen. San Nicolas and Simmons convey roiling discord, absentminded intimacy and reckless affection—and what more is married life about?
SEE IT: Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278, artistsrep.org. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays, 11 am Wednesday, April 6. Closes April 17. $20-$42.