Thursday, January 23, 2014

Rx by Kate Fodor

Kristen Kollender and Jonathan Pessin 

By Joe Straw

On my early morning walk in Culver City, at the corner of Overland and Washington Blvd., plugged in and practicing Pimsleur’s Spanish, I came upon a man who asked me for change. I slapped my sides, motioning “nothing in my pockets” and I said, “I don’t carry money.” 

There was something in his eyes that expressed a great anger.  “Well, give me your shirt.” I kept walking.  “Give me your shoes! Your pants!  Give me everything you’re F#$%@ wearing!”

And for a second I thought: Why do I need all of these clothes?  And suddenly I pictured myself walking back home on Venice Boulevard without a stitch on just to satisfy this man’s early morning needs. But, I kept walking.  Clearly he was in need of a drug to make him feel… I don’t know.  Something.

Strangely enough, I saw him the next morning, in Starbucks, having a cup of joe.  I walked by his table. Our eyes locked as I moved passed him.  Expecting a barrage, he said nothing.  Life was a little easier for him on this day. Perhaps he took something.  

Life’s problems keep changing and everyday there is a new drug, while not a cure will assuage a new symptom, newly diagnosed, to help you, feel better, as you manage your job, with as little confusion as possible, so you can pay for that tiny little pill.  

And why cure a symptom when you can keep on prescribing?

Won’t you join me in this moneymaking venture?  

Rx by Kate Fodor and directed by John Pleshette at The Lost Studio on La Brea is funny and zany, all in the same breath.  The writing is like watching Woody Allen on psychotropic drugs meeting or having a wacky date with Christopher Durang to see Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Lynn Pleshette, the Producer, and The Lost Studio has done a remarkable job bringing Rx to Los Angeles for its premiere with a solid cast of astonishing actors now playing through March 1, 2014.
This production is top rate, the play is fantastic, and the events in this play will make you lightheaded, without the need for medication, unless they come up with a disease for it – addiction to theatre.  

Mina Badie and James Donovan

Meena Pierotti (Mina Badie), managing editor for piggeries at American Cattle & Swine Magazine, understands she has the problem of depression in the workplace, so she has answered an ad for clinical trials for a new drug to combat that problem. In a state of torpor from this job, she understands her plight, recognizes her problem, which is the first step to recovery, placebo or no placebo.    

Today, Dr. Phil Gray (Jonathan Pessin) is interviewing her to see if she qualifies for the program.  And boy is Meena a mess!   She cries frequently at least twice in one day.  But, not at the office, she shuffles to a department store near the old-lady underwear section and weeps, fatuously.

And looking at the line item of “confusion” on his clipboard, Dr. Gray asks if she is confused and on what scale, 10 being worse.  She answers decisively “Yes. 7, 6, 5.”  

Later, Allison Hardy (Kirsten Kollender), an administrator of sorts, nicely put together, think big pharma garb of tight blue shirt, black jacket and skirt, and with stilettoes that would stop a non-medicated prowler in his tracks, has high hopes for the new drug - SP95 for workplace depression.

“It’s a disease, we hope.” – Dr. Phil Gray

Meanwhile, Meena, back at the office with her nerdy assistant Simon (James Donovan) with his pants pulled up way too high and wearing clothes befitting no one, drives Meena up the wall, telling her that Amy (not seen) was quitting to go off to write a book, sending Meena back to the underwear section of the department store.

Later during the examination, Dr. Gray tells Meena that they are looking for professional workers who earn more than $65,000 per year.  Meena has her suspicions about the whole program and asks Dr. Gray if he is a real physician.  And with his bare hands on her soft skin, slightly under the fold of her slacks, she tells him that she has got MFA in poetry, giggles at his touch, and says she ticklish.  

“We’re done.” – Dr. Gray

Later Allison walks into Dr. Gray’s office and tells him that it is not okay to break the rules.  He’s got to get his bookshelf off his floor, it’s in the memo, and she doesn’t care that he hits his head when he stands up.

Meanwhile in the underwear section, Meena meets Frances (K. Callan), an elderly woman, having trouble choosing which “old lady” underwear she wants.  Meena, feeling better, helps her decide, and the decorations on the top will do nicely.

Michael Dempsey and Kristen Kollender 

Later Allison grabs Dr. Gray and pulls him into a marketing meeting with Richard (Michael Dempsey) who finds it an unmistakable pleasure to introduce a new drug to a doctor.  Richard, now excited, brings a small boom box, an easel, and two cards to introduce THRIVEON (spelled as “thrive on” but pronounced by Richard as “thriv EEE on”) 9 to 5.  Allison is beyond excited as Richard hits the box and plays Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 as he dances about the room.

“You can Thrive from 9 to 5.” - Richard

Dr. Gray is none too pleased.

Back for a follow-up, Meena at this point really doesn’t know if she is getting the medication or the placebo. Dr. Gray, not much for rule breaking, except for moving the shelf, putting bare hands on patients, and emailing pictures of his feet, tells Meena that she is getting the drug. He also tells her that he loves her poetry and breaks another rule, the doctor-patient rule, and a romantic relationship ensues complete with photograph of naked feet in various positions.  

Kate Fordor, the writer, has written a wonderful play and something so very unusual that it keeps your interest throughout. A question came to mind during intermission: How does she know all of this stuff?  The names of drugs? The ailments? The doctors? The marketing and pharmaceutical team? Where and how did she accumulate this knowledge? It is probably better left a mystery but suffice it to say this is a wonderful play that will keep audiences enthralled.  

John Pleshette, the director, keeps things moving at an interesting pace.  It is a play about love and drugs and their effects on the human condition.  The through line here could be strengthened with the various characters that take us to the denouement. Allison, who will stop at nothing to get the drug made, Meena who needs the drug to be a better person, worker, lover, etc., Dr. Gray who really needs Meena to keep him going, and the drugs when love is just not getting it done.  Which leaves us with Simon.  Where and how does Simon fit in, in all of this?  Still, Pleshette does a marvelous job with the actors and providing us with a message about love and drugs.   It’s funny when love is lost, the characters frantically run to a drug that will relieve their symptoms, whether it is alcohol, or the orange pill that’s been effectively proven to give dogs a bad case of the runs.

Mina Badie is charming as Meena Pierotti.  It is an interesting role in that it takes her from her depressed charming self, to a loving voluptuous woman, to someone controlling herself and the others around her all the span of an hour and a half.  Things got so wacky on this particular night Badie could hardly control herself.  Still, this was a very nice job.

Jonathan Pressin is Dr. Phil Gray.  Dr. Gray is a man who has a licentious foot fetish so much so that he emails pictures of his feet to his patients – well, one patient.  Amatory speculations set aside, Dr. Gray is slightly nebbish and on the outside sticks by his guns and will not break any rules.  But outside his exterior self, he breaks all the rules continuously.  We all know he wants the girl, but does he try hard enough to get her?  Is he moving his nebbish little self in that direction? – through actions on stage? It is hard to tell with the final outcome.  Nevertheless, I did find Dr. Gray rolling all over the floor just hilarious and will remember that moment for some time to come. Pressin does a fine job with this character.

Kristen Kollender is marvelous as Allison Hardy a backslapping, happy-go-lucky worker for big pharma.  She is as gregarious as she is annoying. And never let it be said the she doesn’t love her job.  On top of all the money she is making, she is watching the pennies. Still, she is the one person co-workers do not want walking into their room, especially after something good has happened, or something bad, or anything at all. It is preferable that she just stays away.   Still you have to love Hardy’s tenacious spirit and Kollender is fantastic in the role.  

James Donovan plays Simon, a nerdy character with a foreign accent.  And an odd thing about this particular character is that he shows up at the most inopportune time, obliquely prowling around the old ladies underwear section by inadvertent happenstance.  Seems like the character has more in his being than being at the wrong place at the right time. Still I enjoyed Donovan’s performance and loved the office party scene.  It was one more moment when things felt just right.  

Michael Dempsey is a wonderful actor, plain and simple. Although he is not plain and simple, but a robust character that brings his characters to extraordinary life. His audacious gestures send the audience into fits of laughter.  Dempsey is an actor that other actors love to watch and steal. Dempsey’s Richard is a character who is slightly off kilter with many layers.  A man who is not sure of his own self worth, wishing for the day back when he decided to drop out of college or medical school.  And as Dr. Ed Morgon he creates an entirely different character, so offbeat and unique, one cannot take your eyes off the mess that is this being. And the glove scene this night was incomparable to anything thing I’ve ever seen in a doctors office.  His performance was just wonderful.

L - R,  K Callan and Mina Badie 

K Callan gives a very special performance, as Frances, a very kind elderly woman who is, in the politest sense of the word, slightly confused, but very kind.  She is ill and knows her time has come. She refuses the drugs she needs but inspires Meena to enjoy life to the fullest.  Frances gives us a chance to breath with all this lunacy going on.  And it is Callan who provides that relief and a time to step back to enjoy her character and her performance. Callan is terrific as Frances.

Karina Farah was the Stage Manager as was David Rubin.

Nicholas Davidson was the Lighting Designer and gave the cast the lighting required to be their best.

Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski was the Sound Designer and everything worked to perfection.  

Esther Rydell was responsible for the Costumes and also did a great job with actors looking and living the part in various costumes.

Ken Werther Publicity was responsible for the publicity.

Other member of the crew were Ariana Hode, House Manager, Debra Valencia DeVa Communications, Graphic Design and Cinda Jackson for The Lost Studio. 

The sign Rx is much too real hanging outside the Lost Stage on La Brea – I walked past thinking it was a pharmacy.

Run! Run! Run! Take someone who has a clear head.

JANUARY 11 — MARCH 1, 2014


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