BWW Review: NSFW at Santa Fe Playhouse
Ever get to the theater, expecting to laugh, cry, think and be moved? This is not one of those times. I would like to say that NSFW at the Santa Fe Playhouse ran that gamut of emotions for me, but I would be lying. That's not to say that it didn't have its moments, it's just that there weren't enough of those moments to make for a cohesive and compelling evening at the theater.
The plot is this: Doghouse, a randy British men's magazine is caught with its pants down (pun intended) when they publish nude pics of an underage girl - a really underage girl - fourteen, to be exact. The fact that this occurs isn't a huge surprise, given the casual, unprofessional and freewheeling attitude of the Doghouse staff - Aiden and Charlotte exchange innuendo-laden banter and ostracize and abuse intern Sam, while high-strung Editor in Chief Rupert seems more concerned with his relationship with Charlotte than the fate of the magazine (which is never fully explained, nor adequately implied). Everything comes to a head when the underage girl's father, Mr. Bradshaw, shows up with a very large axe to grind.
The problems with the first act are myriad, starting with the rushed dialogue - I couldn't understand a word for the first few minutes. Part of this might be attributed to nerves, but the script does call for a frenzied atmosphere. Another problem is the very sporadic command of a British accent displayed by the cast, Bibi MacDougall excluded (she's actually British!). Robert J. Henkel's Sam is pretty consistent, but Koppany Pusztai's Rupert struggles, Duncan North's Bradshaw really struggles, and Patrick MacDonald doesn't even attempt an accent (which is fine, maybe he's playing an American abroad, but that's not clear). Some of the dialogue is rushed and not enough time is taken by our characters (minus Sam) to realize the brevity of the catastrophic situation.
Flip to Act Two, which takes place nine months later at the editorial offices of Electra magazine, the other side of the Doghouse coin, a women's magazine with lots of articles about orgasms and female empowerment (think Cosmo). Here, Miranda, the editor in chief is interviewing Sam for an intern position at her magazine - he obviously was fired from Doghouse, as he was the one to blame for not vetting the 14 year old pinup. A convivial staff can be heard offstage, getting ready for a celebration being thrown in honor of one of the female editors who is ill. The theme involves coming as a woman of power.
Miranda, played by Jody Hegarty Durham, obviously relishes her power, especially over her male employees, who are relegated to intern and administrative assistant roles. She seems to enjoy wielding this power, even over Sam in the interview. Again, Durham tends to rush her lines and not stay in the moment of what is being said - I wanted to see more internalization of the character. Durham also suffered from an intermittent accent. Miranda is also supposed to be a post-menopausal hag of sorts, worried about her fading looks and figure, and Durham does not embody that - she's quite striking, slim and beautiful. Women around me were buzzing at her big revealing moment when she strips down to put on Spanx and cutlets (look it up) to create her artifice -the woman next to me said "If I looked like that I wouldn't need Spanx!"
The overriding theme of the play seems to be that we are all capable of exploiting and being exploited all in the name of our society's pursuit of perfection. The problem is, there wasn't enough meat on the bone in this script to drive that point home, and the actors seemed to drift without clear direction throughout.
All of this to say that I applaud the Playhouse for taking a risk - Artistic Director Vaughn Irving is making bold choices and bringing some amazing new (and new-ish) work to the stage this season. The last three productions at Santa Fe Playhouse have been incredibly strong and moving - especially Fun Home - definitely those nights at the theater where I laughed, cried and thought about the show long after the curtain fell - unfortunately, NSFW just didn't hit that mark.
NSFW is playing July 18 - August 4 - call 505-988-4262 or go to santafeplayhouse.org for tickets.