BWW Reviews: Los Angeles Premiere of Rx Takes a Comedic Look at Better Living Through Pharmaceuticals
From the moment you walk into the Lost Studio, our long love affair with pharmaceuticals is celebrated with ads on the walls and in cleverly adapted lyrics for well-known songs that fill the air, celebrating what our good research doctors have concocted for us, side effects and all.
Love and pharmaceuticals make for a strange cocktail in Kate Fodor's piercing new comedy Rx. Containing equally strong doses of satire and insight, Fodor's play strikingly portrays our over-medicated society, which has a pill to alleviate every uncomfortable emotion. A winning combination of comedy and romance, Rx pokes gentle fun at our over-prescribed culture and our need to find pleasure in everything we do.
The Los Angeles premiere of Rx is running through March 1 at the Lost Studio, directed by John Pleshette. The cast features (in alphabetical order) Mina Badie, K Callan, Michael Dempsey, James Donovan, Kirsten Kollender, and Jonathan Pessin. The set design is by John Pleshette, lighting design is by Nick Davidson, costume design is by Esther Rydell, and sound design is by Joseph "Sloe" Slawinski who brilliantly adapted all the hysterical song lyrics used in the show. Wish I could get a recoding of them!
The basic premise is that Schmidt Pharmaceuticals is running tests for new drugs it has developed, seeking FDA approval for distribution. The latest, a potent mood lifter, is called Thriveon and is geared to lift the spirits of workers who hate their jobs, allowing them work more effectively and happier. Meena Pierotti (Mina Badie), a would-be writer who edits a publication for swine farmers, is so depressed at work she runs off twice a day to a local department store so she can hide in the "granny panty" department to have a good cry. As she says, "it's comforting to be surrounded by an army of grandmas" when you are feeling so sad.
When Meena hears about the new drug being tested to improve work depression, she begs Phil Gray, a research doctor with Schmidt Pharmaceuticals (Jonathan Pessin) to guarantee she will be in the study group who actually gets the drug rather than a placebo. Badie and Pessin start out as doctor and patient and take us on their ride through the research study as well as their developing relationship, which threatens the study as well as their own personal mental health. Their ups and downs fuel the comedy than runs rampant throughout the play and its characters, leaving you wondering just who is the doctor and who is the patient in all these relationships?
And what characters they are, especially Allison Hardy, the gung-ho guru of the sales department at Schmidt Pharmaceuticals, played to the hilt by Kirsten Kollender with a megawatt smile and backslapping enthusiasm that is contagious. Think of every cheerleader or car salesman you have ever known - then multiply their ability to annoy you by 10 - and you will have a good idea of Kollender's marvelous drug rep diva.
The head honcho of the research study is Richard, played by Michael Dempsey, as a fumbling Einstein-quoting lunatic. But it is his portrayal of salesman Ed Morgan, complete with bad toupee, that will have you in stitches as he attempts to sell Thriveon to the doctors involved in the research study. Sloe's version of "Thrive From 9 to 5" heightened the hilarity of the presentation. Dolly Parton would be proud!
James Donovan plays Simon, Mina's hapless co-worker who wants in on the action after he notices how much happier she seems to be. The build-up to their fully clothed, in-the-office seduction scene lets us see how these two venerable people will grasp at anything if there is even the slightest chance of getting their endorphins roaring. Sex and pharmaceuticals, the drug cocktail of choice, in all its glory!
Bringing a touch of humanity to all the hilarity is K Callan as Frances, an older woman who comes into the "granny panty" section one afternoon and meets Mina during one of her crying episodes. The two become fast friends and as Mina's moods improve, she manages to get Frances to come out of her shell and work on improving her appearance and fulfill her dreams. "You young people today are so lucky," Frances tells Mina where she finds out about the pill study, "that you have easy solutions to your problems." But during her own doctor's visit, reality hits Frances hard and we are brought back to reality, reminded that sometimes pharmaceuticals can only ease our pain but not cure the real problem. Reminds me of a conversation I had earlier this week after the senseless drug-related death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.