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Signal Failure

Very well performed, short, gritty two-character romantic comedy, where an appealing, ordinary young couple meets via the London Underground.

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Spencer Cowan and Sasha Ellen in a scene from "Signal Failure" (Photo credit: Natalya Chagrin Photography)

Spencer Cowan and Sasha Ellen in a scene from “Signal Failure” (Photo credit: Natalya Chagrin Photography)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Brian is a chef and Lorna works in an office. Both are in their 20’s, and while riding the London subway glance at each other and weeks later, through a “missed connections” classified newspaper ad meet up and become romantically involved.

This is the premise of Sasha Ellen’s very engaging, slender, two-character romantic comedy “Signal Failure,” now playing in New York City following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, followed by an engagement at London’s St. James Theatre and the York Theatre Royal.

Wildly painted panels with words and images such as Big Ben, Keep Calm, and a Union Jack, simply and concretely establish the locale during the opening scene. The actors on either side of the small bare stage are at large, movable, gray wooden cubes that are resourcefully used as scenery. Sounds and announcements of the London Underground are heard as well as song clips from time to time, adding to the sense of place.

Director Peter Darney’s staging is tremendously forceful, fluid, acutely visual and very well serves the material. In addition to creating a vibrantly watchable piece, he has gotten finely pitched performances from the very appealing cast who for a good deal of the show address the audience with their thoughts.

Spencer Cowan as Brian is boyishly charming and highly comic while simultaneously emotional. With skillful physicality and great inner depth, he gives a wonderful performance that richly captures the sense and being of a troubled, young lost soul.

The author Sasha Ellen has created a great vehicle for herself as Lorna. Her considerable comedic and dramatic talents are well showcased here. She perfectly embodies the familiar type of the young career woman juggling work and personal life in the big city with zest and range.

Sasha Ellen and Spencer Cowan in a scene from "Signal Failure"  (Photo credit: Natalya Chagrin Photography)

Sasha Ellen and Spencer Cowan in a scene from “Signal Failure” (Photo credit: Natalya Chagrin Photography)

The great chemistry between the two of them is the main strength of the show. That they are personable and physically attractive in a conventional way enhances the believability of the plot. They’re not two movie stars with blindingly good looks obviously pretending. They come across as real people.

Ms. Ellen’s script is an overall well-observed and detailed contemporary character study. She does add a few inevitable dramatic plot twists that do not quite ring true and that are slightly unclear. “Signal Failure” is a very enjoyable, modest entertainment with two outstanding performances.

Signal Failure
(varied performance schedule through November 16th, 2014)
Edinburgh Encore Series
Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call (212) 691-1555 or visit
Spencer Cowan’s actor reel
Signal Failure production website

Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (803 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for

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