Do You Feel Anger? by Mara Nelson-Greenberg at Kitchen Theatre Company through Sept 25 (kitchen theatre.org)
Note: BOGO Tickets are available for remaining performances. A Pay What You Can Virtual Streaming option is also offered.
In Do You Feel Anger?, playwright Mara Nelson-Greenberg uses corporate-speak sensitivity training to satirize the machinations of our capitalist patriarchy; more specifically, masculinist sexual harassment and abuse, aggressions both micro and micro. She folds in a huge dollop of comic absurdity, with characters frequently speaking in non sequiturs, or slipping into moments of speaking their (inappropriate) subconscious thoughts.
The setting is a nondescript conference room—whiteboard, cork board, long table and phone (drably reproduced by scenic designers Stiller Zussman and Brendan Komala, abetted by the lighting and sound design of M. E. Berry and Deletris Bryant, respectively). Sophia (Amoreena Wade) has been brought in as an empathy coach for a debt collection agency.
Sophia has her own problems—Dad has left Mom because of unadventurous sex, and Mom (Susannah Berryman: her voice a delicious spectrum of passive-aggressive cooing) is constantly calling.
The first third of the comedy is rollicking fun, but then the momentum lags, the outrageous starts to feel routine. There remains little for an audience to emotionally hang onto, especially as Sophia’s arc moves towards submission and defeat, or at least withdrawal from the field of action.
Satire ain’t easy (George Kaufman famously quipped that “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.”) It tends to do best in short form, the comic sketch (e.g., Saturday Night Live.) Its targets tend to be static (stereotypes in general). So with comedy based on character out the window, the writer must turn to plot, ever spiraling situations.
Secondly, what’s most appealing in Nelson-Greenberg’s writing is the delirious flights of absurdity, which tend to languish in the teeth of the enraged messaging of the satirical impulse, too frequently making “on the nose” points. In short, the comic absurd here becomes sacrificed to the comic satiric.
That said, there is ample room for some fine comic acting. As the hesitant, self-effacing (indeed semi-terrified) Eva, Elyse Steingold provides torrents of delight—her scattered, ever-evolving weaving of protective camouflage are arias of dizzying virtuosity.
Michael Samuel Kaplan glides with precision along the oleaginous surface of the supremely self-satisfied office supervisor, Jon.
A highly kinetic overdrive marks the tandem playing of male employees Howie (Scott Thomas) and Jordan (Javier David Padilla)—basically one-note characters that might inhabit an SNL sketch. These terminally pubescent horndogs alternate primarily between totally ignoring Sofia, or sniffing for her weaknesses (and hitting on her.)
Eric Brooks stumbles on late in the proceedings as “Old Man” and steals the stage in an excellently calibrated combination of confusion and volcanic rage.
As Sofia, Wade holds the stage easily. Her intensity draws one in, however, the cracks aren’t explored. The character’s vulnerability could be more apparent.
Artistic Director Rebecca Bradshaw directs with vigor and pace. Megan Rutherford’s costume design provides its own superb commentary.