Villarin, Megan Hill Photo: Carol Rosegg
You Feel Anger?
By Fern Siegel
title is clearly a rhetorical question, but playwright Mara-Nelson-Greenberg
posits it less as a response to abuse, and more to emphasize, however surreal,
the wacky mind-set of the abuser.
it’s billed as a comedy.
play, now at the Vineyard, opens with a middle-aged woman (Jeanne Sakata)
desperately trying to reach daughter Sofia (Tiffany Villarin), her “little
spider.” (It’s clear, if we sustain the simile, Sofia will catch no one in her
worries her daughter is grappling with family turmoil — and a tough new job.
Sofia is an empathy coach
hired to educate a group of menacing misfits at a debt-collection company. They
don’t see the problem with anger; in fact, the men view her as another
Eva’s (Megan Hill) relentless cheerfulness at the meeting barely masks her
larger worry. She is forever getting “mugged” at work. Rather than outrage, Sofia
tries to understand the men’s’ intransigence; she empathizes with them, rather
the absurdity — the strange nonsensical remarks the dopey trio — Jon (Greg
Keller), Howie (Justin Long) and Jordan (Ugo CHukwu)— spout, don’t click.
Statements such as “empathy is a bird” or “maternity leave means women can
leave the office when they give birth” fall flat.
the playwright’s point is that women — and society — are conditioned to routinely
dismiss bad behavior from men, her choice of expression doesn’t indict. Sadly,
it acts as apologist.
too many audience members laugh at Eva’s distress, even at a painful scene.
Possibly, they’ve learned, via osmosis, about Sofia’s empathy tropes. She tries
to validate male rage, calling it a strategy to help them see the error of
their ways, rather than decry female suffering.
question: Why is no one angry about Eva’s charges?)
Sofia’s ploy is
ineffective; it just leaves Eva, and the mysterious Jane, rumored to be holed
up in the bathroom, to fend for themselves. As for Sofia’s touted empathy — she
has none for her caring, neglected mother or her female colleagues. When she
tells Eva she “has her back,” it’s a signal, like Susan Collins voting for
Brett Kavanaugh, that she doesn’t.
where is the comedy in this comedy billing?
absurdist format can be effective, and in more skillful hands, it could be
utilized to great effect. One of the reasons the “SNL” sketches of Donald Trump
prove so potent is they smartly underscore the absurdity of what he says — and
by extension — the great damage such pronouncements and policies will produce.
CHukwu, Megan Hill, Justin Long Photo: Carol Rosegg
not enough to have men say stupid things and women pacify them to be funny.
Otherwise, our bar for comedy has sunk too low. Skilled writers can expose
hypocrisy and cruelty and get laughs from it. Even broad comedians like Mel
Brooks have done it to great effect.
Maya Nelson-Greenberg has the benefit of a capable cast, directed by Margot
Bordelon, and a well-known venue to highlight critical points. Yes, there are
some dramatic moments, but the problem is they seem to exist in a different
Sofia realizes her own myopia — she’d cut the women deeply and they bleed —
get it? — it’s too late. Women suffer; men endure. We don’t need
Nelson-Greenberg to tell us that. We only have to look to the Oval Office.
Theater, 108 East 15 St., Through April 27
time: 90 minutes