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Friday, October 25, 2013

The Bard’s Town Brings Funny and Touching “RX” to Louisville

Brian Hinds and Beth Tantanella in Kate Fodor's RX.
Photo – The Bard's Town.

RX

Written by Kate Fodor
Directed by Tad Chitwood

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Kate Fodor’s RX is a very funny play, a sharp, satirical examination of human frailty and the value of a pharmacological response to emotional instability.

Meena Pieroti is unhappy in her job as Managing Editor of American Cattle and Swine magazine, and so she enlists in a drug trial for SP925, which is designed to make you happy in your job. This is such a simple idea but one that immediately resonates in a world in which making a living doing something you truly love seems a luxury only Hollywood movie stars can claim. Her monitoring physician is Dr. Phil Gray, a somewhat phlegmatic soul who soon finds himself in love with Meena. This complicates things in ways both obvious and unexpected but almost always hilarious.

The interaction that both characters have with new pharmaceuticals clearly indicates a position of mistrust of big pharmaceutical companies and their dependency on our dependency on their product. At one point the executive in charge of the SP925 trial decries a new drug that cures heartbreak because once you meet “the next blonde” the patient would cease taking the drug. But SP925 is a keeper – a pill that the vast majority of Americans would “take every day for the rest of their lives.”

Yet the playwright has more on her mind than a biting satire of the drug industry. The shifting dynamics of relationships among the five characters target modern human insecurities. Meena cries twice a day by escaping to the ladies lingerie section of a neighboring department store, where she is certain her coworkers will never discover her among the “granny panties”; while Dr. Gray falls apart from heartbreak and recklessly indulges in some uncertain pills offered up by a sloppy colleague.

Before it’s done, the play surprises by injecting hope and idealism into its pessimistic core. At the end of the day, it balances a detailed and knowing attack on an industry whose integrity has come into question often in recent years with an engaging romance that is also characterized by a nutty mix of personality quirks from all sides. The characters’ idiosyncrasies are there from the start, but love pushes them to new levels of absurdity.

Director Tad Chitwood has a great ensemble to work with and leads them into fresh territory. As Meena, Beth Tantanella delivers the best work I have seen from her – a character built with specificity and grounded in a core of emotional fragility that gives the comic complications a nice sense of pathos. We laugh but are also worried for her. Brian Hinds allows his delicious dead pan delivery to make sense as a gauge of how constrained his Dr. Phil Gray is and how desperately he needs to break out. Between them, these two actors make us feel the worth of emotional messiness. Susan Linville makes a welcome return to the stage as the corporate overseer of the trial, first fierce and demanding, later a bundle of insecurity when her world begins to crumble. Everyone in this play is fragile, including the tough business woman. Laurene Scalf brings a delightfully distracted quality to an older woman who Meena befriends in that “granny panties” lingerie section; while Michael Roberts shows interesting new colors in his work as the frazzled medical colleague who too freely offers samples; and Andy Epstein is low-key onstage but has a particularly hilarious moment offstage that you need to see (or hear) for yourself.

As funny as it, it is the way RX sneakily inserts honest truths and penetrating observations about the human condition that makes you take this play home with you. We wind up feeling deeply for Meena and Phil, and perhaps only realize just how deeply after the drive home from the theatre.

RX

October 24-27 and 31, 2013, at 7:30 p.m.
November 1, 2, 2013, at 7:30 p.m.

The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
502-749-5275

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