Story: Meena is feeling unfulfilled in her job as managing editor for piggeries at American Cattle & Swine magazine, oddly enough. After all, she once wrote a book of “prose poetry” that was even published and reviewed. The lone critique was unflattering, and the book didn’t sell many copies, but still she did it.
She’s so unhappy at her job that she makes regular visits to a nearby retail store, where she engages in crying jags in the women’s underwear department lest anyone at work see her misery. So, when she hears that Schmidt Pharma is looking for volunteers to test a new drug called SP925, designed to ‘beat’ the workday doldrums, she is eager to check it out.
The company doctor who administers the drug is a hapless fellow appropriately named Phil Gray. He finds himself attracted to Meena, crossing over dangerous physician/patient lines, but he considers that a risk worth taking. However, when Meena begins feeling better from the drug (or a placebo effect, since she unknowingly may be in a control group), she actually starts to like her job, at Phil’s expense.
Can Phil revitalize her waning interest in him? And can he take a pill for his own aching heart?
Highlights: West End Players Guild has upped the ante on its offerings in recent years with a shrewd selection process that has brought rarely seen gems to the local area. It concludes its 2013-14 season with the St. Louis premiere of this delightful, gentle comedy by playwright Kate Fodor that debuted in New York City in 2012.
With a witty script and a winning interpretation of its key characters, the West End Players Guild presentation keeps the laugh meter in a most pleasant range under Renee Sevier-Monsey’s direction, problematic though it may be.
Other Info: Monsey’s effort benefits from several amusing portrayals that mostly overcome the production’s shortcomings. Somehow, some way, Monsey and scenic designer Ethan Dudenhoeffer need to figure out how to keep the show from grinding to an aggravating and annoying halt between each of the numerous short scenes.
Yes, some take place in Meena’s office, or at the retail store, or in Dr. Gray’s study room at Schmidt Pharma or in Gray’s bedroom. Still, the production begs for a more efficient method of segueing between vignettes than simply shutting down while stagehands laboriously set up the next scene in the dark, whether on the stage itself or on the floor in front of the audience. It all gets too tedious, seriously diluting the otherwise pleasant impact of the script and its characters.
Even so, Laura Singleton and Jeff Kargus are winning and engaging as two nebbish souls who find each other amid the backdrop of big pharma. Singleton’s reactions are amusingly captured in her wide and surprise-filled eyes, as when she’s watching Phil fumble about as he clumsily proclaims his affection. “Should I be afraid of you?,” she asks half seriously.
Kargus humorously relays Phil’s halting romantic ways in both endearing and entertaining style, even if it’s hard to envision Phil with a tattoo. He maintains the same low-key, awkward approach not only with Meena but with his colleagues as well, to amusing and rewarding effect.
Beth Davis is great fun as Phil’s boss, Allison, who gets turned on by marketing meetings and lives for the workday world. Matt Hanify is amusing as Simon, Meena’s superior at the insular little trade magazine where they take seriously pork prices, pork bellies and all things pork or beef. Hanify and Singleton are hilarious when opportunistic Simon reacts to Meena’s increased appetites for her work and other activities, seizing the moment to “bring home the bacon.”
John Lampe is entertaining in a couple of roles, first as a slick and silly ad guy who wants to brand SP925 as ‘Thriveon,’ to the sensual delight of Allison, and later as Phil’s inept colleague Ed, a man who likens himself to Einstein, if only because like the brilliant scientist he doesn’t wear socks.
Suzanne Greenwald completes the cast as Frances, a widow whom Meena meets at the store and who is spurred to revitalize her mundane life thanks to Meena’s inadvertent pep talk.
Chuck Lavazzi’s sound design cleverly utilizes a number of tunes with a ‘work’ theme, Jean Heckman adds costumes, Sevier-Monsey handles the lighting and Rebecca Davis provides the props.
Despite those sluggish starts and stops between scenes, Rx is an effective prescription for humor.
Company: West End Players Guild
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Avenue
Dates: April 10, 11, 12, 13
Tickets: $20; contact www.WestEndPlayers.org/tickets or 367-0025
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb