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Sunday, 06 April 2014 21:11

Come On, Get Happy!: ‘Rx’

Written by Andrea Braun
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Come On, Get Happy!: ‘Rx’
westendplayers.org / John Lamb

If there were a pill you could take to make you love your job, would you use it? If you are as miserable as Meena Pierotti (Laura Singleton), a frustrated poet with an MFA wasting her life editing a livestock magazine, you might.

She seems to be mostly focused on pork features, and to show that, there is a picture of a pig on the wall behind her desk. She has been employed at this company for 10 years and has held her current position for four. She’s 37 years old and single. When we meet her, she is being interviewed by Dr. Phil Gray (Jeff Kargus, whose character name must be a joke). He is a researcher for Schmidt Pharma, a big drug company, testing her as a potential trial subject for SP925, a drug that may have a positive effect on the mood of dissatisfied workers.

Meena seems like the perfect choice for such a study. She hates everything about what she does. She is so frustrated that she goes down the block to the Bon Ton Department Store to cry in Ladies Lingerie at least twice a day. Her chosen spot is among the “granny panties,” which she finds comforting, she tells Phil, because it’s like being surrounded by an army of protective grandmothers. She can’t vent her emotions at her workplace for fear of seeming unprofessional to her demanding boss, Simon (Matt Hanify). She is desperate to be a part of this trial and to get the actual drug, not a placebo.

To her great relief, she does make it into the study. Aside from nausea, she doesn’t feel different right away, but she is hopeful that she will notice an improvement ‘any minute,’ so that makes things a bit less awful. She meets an older woman, Frances (Suzanne Greenwald), in “her” department one day and helps the grandmotherly lady decide to buy some underwear. It’s been a long time since Frances has been willing to spend money on herself—she tells Meena she even cuts her own hair with nail scissors—but she seems to be much cheerier than Meena overall. The two quickly become friends, and Frances will continue to be an intimate and strong influence on the younger woman.

Phil’s colleague Allison Hardy (Beth Davis) is the Director of Marketing for the drug company located in an unspecified Midwestern city, and she is a hard-charging, overbearing woman who absolutely adores her job. She says all the does when she’s not working is kick off her shoes and wait to come back to the office, so she is obviously Meena’s polar opposite. Allison loves meetings, as we learn when she and Phil take one with Richard (John Lampe), an advertising rep who has created a campaign for the nascent drug which they decide to call ‘Thriveon.’ That’s a joke, of course, as is its test number ‘925’ (as in “9 to 5”). Allison is over the moon at the chance that Dolly Parton might provide the theme song for their future commercial.

Complications arise when Meena and Phil become personally involved. He got a copy of her one published book of ‘prose poems’ and enjoyed them. Many jokes are made about feet along the way,both poetic and human, and Meena does begin to feel better. She quickly becomes dependent on the drug, as well as the rather sad sack doctor who is now not just her lover but her pusher. Wait! Is she getting the real thing or is she experiencing the ‘placebo effect’ as a member of the control group? You will find out, if you want to.

As well-intentioned as this production is and as talented as the cast may be, ‘Rx’ just isn’t very good. West End Players Guild chooses its scripts by committee, and I don’t know where they got the idea that it isn’t necessary to consider the limitations of your space before greenlighting a play such as this one. There are many short scenes in Act I, and they require different locations—Meena’s office, the doctor’s office, a conference room, Phil’s apartment, and the department store. The WEPG auditorium is a stage which they do use for Ethan Dudenhoeffer’s design of the two offices and the doctor’s exam room, but then they have to move to the floor for the department store, Phil’s apartment (a bed) and a center platform for the advertising presentation. The floors are bare, so there is a lot of clomping around in the dark. This problem completely destroys the narrative flow. The scenes become serio-comic blackouts rather than parts of a coherent whole.

I’m sure director/lighting designer Renee Sevier-Monsey has done her best, and KDHX’s Chuck Lavazzi has provided interesting sound design comprised of pop songs about work. The actors are game for a romantic comedy, which is a refreshing choice for the group, but slow set changes, actors in high heels who don’t seem to quite trust glow tape, and the frequent ‘whoosh’ of the stage curtain creates too much noise for the audience to be able to concentrate on Kate Fodor’s delicate, if predictable, love story that also delivers a serious gut punch to what we’ve come to call ‘Big Pharma.’

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