Right off the bat, the crowd for opening night of Kate Fodor’s “Rx” at the Lost Studio gets my nomination for the most slash, super sweet mob of stylers of 2014, hands down. Kid you not, it was wall to wall sleek, sexy and fit where age did not burden but boasted of a collective consciousness forged in the cultural crucible of Woodstock, Stonewall and the “Summer of Love”. Yea! Go Team Baby Boomers! Now that I got that little rant off my chest, let’s talk “theatre”.
Generally encountering a show bedecked in the praise of the East Coast standard bearers (NY Times, Village Voice, NY Post) I brace myself for a difficult evening. Sorry, but that’s what comes of one too many revivals of “The Star Spangled Girl” and “Carousal”.
“Rx” is a comedy cut from the same stone as Neil Simon and Wendy Wasserstein which is to say it is a crafted work guaranteed to “tickle the funny bone” of some while simultaneously “strumming the heart strings” of others. The work has wit, the production has flair and the cast has such an excess of talent that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay might feel challenged to scale it.
Meena Pierotti (Mina Badie) is a former “aspiring poet” who now applies her skills to the trade publication serving America’s cattle and swine industry. It is a soul crushing Hell with an “incentive savings plan” and medical. Meena regularly flees her workplace for a nearby department store and the sanctuary of women’s under garments where she sobs out her angst among the cotton unmentionables. But she finds a ray of hope by enrolling in a clinical study of a mega-corp pharmaceutical new wonder drug that holds the promise of attenuating her nine to five agony.
At the helm of the marketplace test is the über-ambitious, ethically challenged project manager Allison (Kirsten Kollender) who is determined to find a cure for workplace depression, “which isn’t a human failing, but a disease, we hope.” As she plows forward in pursuit of her ends like a sexy panzerblizt with an MBA, Doctor Phil, (Jonathan Pessin) often finds himself underneath her treads. Once he had aspired to the lofty ranks of the medical world’s august Trinity: Saint Casey, Saint Kildare and the Holy Welby, but now he finds himself reduced to the lowly gatekeeper of the popular over-the-counter Soma.
Ah, but it’s the same old story; boy meets girl, boy draws girl’s blood, girl craves boy’s prescription and suddenly for Meena and Doctor Phil there are new days with new hopes and new dreams. But can this new perspective be credited to the new wonder drug of that ol’ reliable “Love potion Number Nine”?
Like Fred and Ginger swirling over an MGM soundstage, Badie and Pessin play the humor of the piece with precision and grace. Michael Dempsey pulls double duty as Richard the PR guru and Doctor Phil’s slightly bumbling colleague Ed and succeeds in excelling in both roles. Kollender delivers a pitch perfect performance which in and of itself is worth the price of admission. Hell, make that two admissions.
The excellent work of James Donovan as Simon, Meena’s boss, and K. Callan as Frances whose life is changed by Meena’s suggestion of which underwear to buy cannot be faulted except that neither character contributes to the play’s narrative core. Their roles, like Dempsey’s secondary character, are the excess baggage that flaws the piece and impairs the work’s pacing.
Overall, director John Pleshette has done a commendable job, but one hamstrung by a script and inter-scene blackouts that would serve the evening best, if trimmed. Nevertheless, the playwright has offered up a certified crowd pleaser, so all you “crowds” out there rush on over to The Lost Studio on La Brea and get yourselves royally “pleased”.