Entertainment » Theatre

Elemeno Pea

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Nov 10, 2017
Elemeno Pea

Boston Playwrights' Theatre premieres a re-worked version of Molly Smith Metzler's incisive, savagely funny play "Elemeno Pea," and hits every note.

Metzler's play originally premiered in 2011, but in 2015 she went back to makes fixes she felt to be necessary. The result is a script that flies along with sureness and wit -- qualities the cast capture under the direction of Shana Gozansky.

Sisters Simone (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan) and Devon (Amanda Collins) haven't seen each other for a while. When they finally do have a chance to catch up, it's at the Martha's Vineyard estate of the wealthy family for which Simone works, Peter and Michaela Kell (the latter played by Samantha Richert). It's the end of the season; the help has mostly left, and the house is being prepared for the winter by caretaker Jos-B (Jaime Carrillo), whose nickname, we find out, is a playful, if dismissively high-handed, riff on the fact that the Kells have another servant named José. (See what they did there?) It's funny and disgusting at the same time, and it nails the oh-so-haughtily contemptuous attitude of the monied Kells toward everyone not in their own socially stratospheric class.

Lydia Barnett-Mulligan, Samantha Richert, and Amanda Collins in 'Elemeno Pea'  (Source:Kalman Zabarsky)

It's obvious from the start that Simone has soaked up quite a few of the attitudes the Kells represent. Her dress is conspicuously ugly, but it's expensive; she has a bunch of others much like it. She's grossly overpaid for the work she does, which is essentially to be Michaela's amanuensis / confidant / cheerleader. A novelist by vocation, Simone has abandoned her creative efforts to focus on her job; she's also a Yale graduate, though her saccharine, superficial way of relating to others makes you wonder whether her concentration at Yale was in perkiness. Suffusing everything else about Simone is a brittle defensiveness that's not unlike the fine-grained hostility the Kells exude.

Devon, by contrast, is more a working-class sort. She has to be, given her job. (She works at an Olive Garden; even Jos-B winces at this revelation.) But though Devon lives in her mother's basement and sleeps on beanbag chairs, she holds on to a sense of authenticity -- or something she seems to take for authenticity, though at times it reads as resentment.

Jaime Carrillo and Samantha Richert in 'Elemeno Pea'  (Source:Kalman Zabarsky)

Given their different places in life, a clash of class and culture is inevitable -- but the pay is immeasurably enriched when Michaela suddenly appears, breathless and panicked, having been kicked out of Pete's car en route to the ferry. Thoughtlessly canceling Simone's plans for the weekend, Michaela assumes that she can buy Devon's understanding (or at least her compliance) with a $10,000 check. When Devon resists this, the class tensions grow tauter. Then Ethan (Barlow Adamson), Simone's vacuous and rich new boyfriend, shows up and the play kicks into overdrive; it's the one percenters (and those eager to join their ranks) versus the ordinary folks, and it's going to get both personal and ugly.

Scene by scene and beat by beat, the characters are unpeeled like onions, each layer yielding surprises. The righteously working class Devon plainly enjoys the unfolding saga of Michaela and Peter's unfolding marital strife, watching from the margins with an expression of rapt amusement that at times dips perilously close to malice. Jos-B, who puts on an ingratiating act of adoration whenever he's talking to his boss, seethes with unhappiness until a late-breaking twist provides him with smug schadenfreude. The sweet, if self-absorbed, Ethan seems like a Prince Charming until his true colors start to bleed through. Simone's starry-eyed fantasies shoulder all her putative refinements aside, threatening to derail her life. Even Michaela proves to have hidden nuances that temper her initial Dragon Lady impression. This character work is meaty, and it's skillfully built on the rather thin bones of the plot; Metzler is wise to invest the inventiveness she does into personae of her characters and their juicy interactions, because that's where the narrative richness of this story lies. The excellent ensemble do it justice.

The staging is well integrated into the comedy, with a sumptuous set (designed by Jeffrey Peterson) and a running gag about a soundproof door that provides a whole secondary layer of visual humor that serves as a backdrop to the action in the foreground. David Wilson's lighting and sound design are calibrated to the split second; jokes about the house's built-in music system, an Alexa-like service called Disco, possess the snap of well-judged timing. Rachel Padula-Shufelt's costuming fits the characters so well that we get a god read on them at first glimpse. All in all, this is another top-drawer production from Boston Playwrights' Theatre.

"Elemeno Pea" runs through Nov. 19 at Boston Playwrights' Theater, located at 949 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.bu.edu/bpt

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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