For Email Marketing you can trust

The Hope Hypothesis

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 blows up.


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

Limited engagement, through November 15

Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm.

Tickets: $37; students and seniors $27