At the top of “Le Switch,” Philip Dawkins’ rollicking and witty romantic comedy that opened Friday at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, David, a professor of library science, addresses his students (us): “In this fast-paced world, where so much seems uncertain, ill-defined, blink-and-you-miss-it temporary, I make to each of you this solemn vow. When you leave this program, you will be able to classify everything.”

That declaration speaks to his wish to have control and order in a world of rapid change. But it may be easier for him to sort the chaos around him than to tidy up his own feelings. David (studious Kasey Mahaffy) fears commitment, having abandoned a long-term relationship with “the perfect guy” because he began to talk about marriage even before that was legally possible.

Now that he can really marry his new love, charming twenty-something florist Benoit (a winsome Michael Hanna), whom he met at a bachelor party in Quebec, David is tied in knots.

Directed with fluid lyricism by Jeremy Cohen, “Le Switch” has a firecracker cast with expert timing and a lot of heart. The set (by Kate Sutton-Johnson), costumes (Moria Sine Clinton) and lights (Barry Browning) all give the smooth production an alluring elegance.

“Le Switch” cleverly embodies the philosophical arguments that onetime outsiders inevitably have when shibboleths fall. It happened after integration — when African-Americans weighed gains in education and economic opportunities against losses in community cohesion — and in the wake of the women’s movement, as new choices brought new pressures about ways to live.

The play is set between 2011 (when marriage equality first passed in New York) and 2014 (when it was sanctioned nationally by the Supreme Court). Characters of different generations embody both the questions and the progress around this epochal change. David’s older roommate and surrogate father Frank (Patrick Bailey) is left adrift, wondering about his place in the world. For youths like Benoit, their attitude is: Like, duh, of course people should be able to marry the ones they love.

But for 30s-ish David, caught in the middle, things are more complicated. He wonders about buying into hetero-normative mores. He wonders if it was all worth the fight.

The cast is rounded out by live-wire comic Michael Wieser as David’s soon-to-be-wed best friend and Emily Gunyou Halaas as David’s twin sister, who married as a business transaction but may finally be having feelings for her always-absent African husband.

All these are real characters, sympathetic, charming and funny, showing us with humor the nuances that attend a historic moment.

 

rpreston@startribune.com

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