Mary E. Hodges, Soraya Broukhim, Greg Brostrom, William Ragsdale
Photos by Beowulf Sheenan
The Hope Hypothesis
by Julia Polinsky
At the start of The Hope Hypothesis, lights come up on an unspecified
government office that looks mightily like the DMV. A teller (terrific
performance by Wesley Zurick), behind bulletproof glass, confronts Amena
(Soraya Broukhim), asking for her birth certificate and a picture ID. And
there’s the problem: she was born in Syria, when ISIS was the government, and
her birth certificate has the ISIS flag on it. From the moment Amena submits
that certificate, the full-on insanity of current attitudes toward terrorism
It’s worth seeing The Hope Hypothesis just to watch how
quickly and thoroughly things can go off the rails in today’s America. In short
order, Amena is detained without recourse to an attorney, by the two most
cliché FBI agents ever, one mean, one actively stupid (William Ragsdale and
Greg Brostrom). The teller and his supervisor (Connor Carew) show just how
deeply dysfunctional government bureaucracy can be, when the bottom-feeders are
in charge. Brendan (Charlie O’Rourke), Amena’s hapless shmuck of a boyfriend,
comes to find and help her and is himself detained. An ACLU lawyer (Mary E.
Hodges) who comes to help out ends up entrapped in the paranoid government
fantasies of FBI men with guns.
Charlie O'Rourke, Connor Carew, Wesley Zurick
The Hope Hypothesis rings all the horrifying, oppressive
changes of modern fear-based living, and yet manages to reach for humor at the
same time. Situations move and change with all the depth of a sitcom, at the
pace of farce. Some of the actors’ lines are quite funny, and raise good-sized
guffaws from the audience. Characters have laughable weaknesses. Accusations
based on nothing but fear and doubt somehow become amusing.
Direction occasionally works well but then veers off-kilter, and
can’t seem to decide whether the play is a comedy or, as one character calls
it, a Kafka novel. In a story full of paranoia, absurdities abound, and the
cast has to do what they can with them.
The cast paints its characters with such broad strokes that they
are caricatures, instead: buffoonish boyfriend; soft-headed supervisor; tough,
Black, female ACLU lawyer; sweet, smart Arab girl; dangerously dunderheaded FBI
man; another G-man, just smart enough to be mean; and the teller, whose
wrongheaded self-confidence, ambition, and powerful personality end up creating
the problem and running things.
In The Hope Hypothesis, author/director Cat Miller’s 16
short scenes are almost a real play, but need to be strung together with
something other than blackouts. For that matter, the scenic design itself (Zie
Hurwitz) could be more useful. The stage becomes three rooms, and as scenes
change– a government office, a different government office, a break room for a
government office; surely there was another way to define those three spaces
other than full blackouts for scene changes.
So, what is the “hope hypothesis” of the title? Well, there’s a
theory that says that when people lose hope, they try to destroy themselves or
others. That’s pretty dark, but even darker comes the question: what’s the
solution? Amena even asks for a solution, out loud, in plain English, but never
gets an answer.
Fundamentally, the terrible story and the loss of hope should be
complete audience downers, but somehow, humor floats the show. See if you can
get some hope out of it.
The Hope Hypothesis
By Cat Miller
At the Sheen Center
for Thought and Culture
18 Bleecker St, NY NY
through November 15
Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm.
Tickets: $37; students
and seniors $27