Reservations for Three

By Steven Bennett | Comedy
A high-strung woman reveals her relationship doubts over a romantic dinner.

It's a beautiful evening in California, and at one elegant Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills, a couple named Candice and Peter sits down for a romantic dinner, complete with delicious food, lovely music and a gorgeous outdoor setting.

But the amorous atmosphere is interrupted when Candice drops a conversational bomb. She wants a baby. Now. And that's even before the appetizers have arrived. It's also just the first of many other revelations that are revealed throughout the ensuing discussion, which finds this happy couple at a crossroads in their relationship.

This sweet yet emotionally honest romantic short, from director Steven Bennett, producer Michael P. Mason and co-writers Leanne Melissa Bishop and Kelly Perine (who also co-star as Candice and Peter), is resplendent in the trappings of classic contemporary romance, with its romantic setting and charming soundtrack. But through its perceptive dialogue and deft performances, it also lays bare the undercurrents of anxiety that can consume and threaten to derail us from what are often warm, contented relationships.

Candice, of course, is dealing with her biological clock, but she's also by nature high-strung, a combination that has her unspool her anxious thoughts before dinner has even started. Her dialogue comes pouring forward in a torrent, shedding light on the high-wire act that many people go through in contemporary dating in the age of Tinder and OKCupid. But by presenting herself as what she thinks she should be -- and glossing over the truth of who she is, warts and all -- Candice has built what seems like a wonderful, loving relationship on a foundation of a tiny inauthenticity.

Co-writer and actor Bishop hits on the comical aspects of Candice's situation with a performance that resembles the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s, but she also illuminates what it feels like to be gnawed at from the inside out with constant doubt and worry, not just about the relationship, but about her very lovability -- a core anxiety that likely prompted Candice to hide her truths in the first place.

By contrast, her boyfriend Peter easily rolls with the punches. Though he's shocked by Candice's urgency for a baby, among other revelations, he absorbs it all with remarkable equanimity, even while expressing his reactions with openness and honesty. It helps that he's also distracted by what perfect meal he wants to order from the extensive menu, a behavior that co-writer/actor Perine plays up to provide comical contrast to Candice's nervy intensity, abetted by a very helpful waiter. The waiter also steps in to play a pivotal role in helping the couple out of the flurry of anxiety they've found themselves in -- and moving them along to a sweet, funny and heartwarming conclusion.

"Reservations for Three" is essentially a conversation within a long scene that's a pivotal point in a relationship, and the arc comes from whether or not the characters can navigate the transition. What works so well in the writing and performances is how the dialogue weaves in and out of the present dilemma, its connection to past mistakes and the future being created, all while capturing two distinctive yet complementary characters.

In its willingness to take detours and explore more idiosyncratic character territory, the audience realizes that Candice's anxieties aren't a tic, but come from a deep place within her, and that Peter's surface amiability isn't just passively riding out a relationship, but a genuine calmness that offers Candice a safe place to explore her fears and doubts. In offering her that safety, acceptance and security, it actually allows her to more deeply trust and love Peter, softening those anxieties -- and helping them take the next step in what will likely be a long, loving relationship.

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