Kate Fodor’s “RX” is a funny play. The story is also tragic and maybe a touch sweet. Certainly the mixture of elements proved to be entertaining during last weekend’s production of the play in The Purple Masque Theater.
The Masque (soon to be replaced with a brand-new West Stadium theater) is the small, famously haunted thrust stage place in K-State’s Memorial Stadium East. One usually sees student productions there.
Director Amanda Garvey assembled an impressive cast and a solid technical staff to produce “RX.” Deb Bruner’s imaginative set featured fold-down panels, and Katelyn Gustafson’s costumes were well-selected, right down to the medical scrubs worn by the props crew as they re-organized the set between scenes.
Gustafson had plenty to do here, if only to manage the wardrobe of Cat Huck, who had to strip to her skivvies for medical examinations so often and so quickly, several times while on stage, that ease of egress and ingress must have been special concerns.
Huck’s Meena is taking part in a drug trial. She works as an editor for an swine industry journal, despite an early spell as a poet, and she is unhappy in her job. So she very much wants to take the drug being tested by a large pharmaceutical company. Please note that just now “Big Pharma” is, in entertainments, a political villain of the sort “Big Oil” has been for over a century.
The drug, “SP925” or “Thriveon,” is intended to give office workers an appetite for their work. Meena feels she needs the drug’s help. As things are she is going twice a workday to a nearby department store’s older women’s oversized panties section in order to have a good cry uninterrupted.
She is interviewed for the drug trial by Phil (Mark Young), a doctor who has, like Meena, failed to settle into what he thinks of as meaningful work. The two have a fling after he buys her book of poems, looks up the one review, and suggests she is taking the criticism too personally. They discuss solving their problems by running off to Africa together. He would work for a foreign medical mission and she would return to poetry writing.
But then Meena notices that she begins to enjoy her work. Is the drug working? Will this mean an end to the Africa plans and perhaps to the romance? Well, Fodor, who wrote “100 Saints You Should Know,” has plenty more developments to pop off in her brief, quirky scenes before all is resolved.
Garvey’s direction helped to keep the events coming. Besides the main characters and story, the play has a subplot involving an older woman (Emily Barnhill) shopping for underwear, regaining her enthusiasm for living, and discovering she is dying of an ironic complaint. And then there are other interesting characters.
SP925 Project supervisor Allison (Kelsey Coffroth) gets a positively sexual thrill over business prospects. Meena’s supervisor and, during the time she is turned on by her work, her lover Simon (Chase Rossman) is gleeful.
Garvey might have done better to cast two different actors to play the Thriveon ad man and the doctor working on a pharmaceutical treatment for heartbreak. Here James Sherwood played them both, and had two different characters. But the copywriter is on stage too short a time for him to convey much more than the loopy enthusiasm evinced by several of the play’s personalities.
Young was funny about liking feet (in both the biologic and literary senses). Huck’s controlled energy and on-stage confidence were very winning. She worked hard to make the concluding reconciliation acceptable. And here’s the problem with the play—there is enough in it that is world-wise and “True” (“I was terribly lonely after I fell in love and got married”) that the resolution, including Allison’s odd self-sacrifice, seem to jangle against the edges where they should just lock in magnetically.
But the fine production made the most of the play’s comedy. And these days anything that is new and truly comic is a find.