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THEATER REVIEW: Diversionary’s “Fair Use” scores as a clever, romantic comedy

Love and plagiarism, sexual politics and intellectual property law collide and combine in Sarah Gubbins’ clever romantic comedy “Fair Use,” playing through March 13 at Diversionary Theatre.

At her desk in a Chicago law firm, Sy (Amanda Sitton) writes a morning-after note to old friend and colleague Madi (Jacque Wilke), whom she finally got into bed after a decade of wishing it so.

Sy has only two problems: Madi insists she’s straight, and colleague Chris (Wyatt Ellison) also has designs on her.

Chris, apparently a good lawyer, is hopeless at writing mash notes; this day, instead of asking Sy, he rummages through her desk and appropriates her note to Madi as inspiration (shades of “Cyrano de Bergerac”).

More awkward is the fact that these three are defending bestselling novelist Don (Stephen Schmitz) against charges he plagiarized an unpublished memoir by a hack writer and made it into a Pen/Faulkner finalist. Is it influence, theft or neither?

Meanwhile, the firm has hired Sy’s friend Bec (Wendy Maples), a near-Ph.D. in literature, to give an opinion about the alleged plagiarism.

Gubbins has a facility for smart dialogue and a good instinct about how much legal talk is enough for a playgoer. Tech work and fine direction help to accent the humor and to separate the story lines: when the script veers from professional to personal, sudden red lights bathe the single-office set and we seem transported into an oneiric film noir.

There are other throwbacks, as well: music from the film “Laura,” an old manual typewriter on Sy’s desk, and talk about the ’70s legal battle between the Chiffons and George Harrison over “My Sweet Lord.”

Director James Vasquez has an ideal cast and takes advantage of their physical attributes as well: the long tall drink that is Sitton is a vision in pencil skirt or stylish pantsuit, accented by a veritable wardrobe of five-inch stilettos. This girl has shoes! She also has the acting chops to pull of this wonderful role.

Wilke’s Madi is terrific as well, pushing the film analogy with her ampler frame encased in a tight business suit and topped by a ’40s blonde hairstyle and bright lipstick.

Maples is excellent as Sy’s favorite bike dyke, love adviser and literature expert.

Ellison and Schmitz are perfect foils for the ladies, clueless but charming in their own ways.

If the ending seems sudden and a bit specious, well, so is love sometimes. But it’s been a great ride.

The details

“Fair Use” runs through March 13 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. in University Heights.

Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; matinees Saturday at 3 and Sunday at 2 p.m.

For tickets, call (619) 220-0097 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.