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photographs by Barry Wisdom /
The B Street Theatre, best known as a new-works playhouse that specializes in staging cozy, serio-comedies of quiet quirkiness, takes an early summer vacation from the subtle in its West Coast premiere of Kate Fodor’s “Rx.”
A satire on America’s never-ending quest for pharmaceutical solutions that’ll cure what ails ya, “Rx,” which plays April 29 through June 10, 2012, is a high-energy, medicinal hilarity dispensary that guarantees relief from overwrought, overdone dramas.
Buck Busfield directs the farcical, physical, frenetically paced production that is bold and brassy, with comically exaggerated huffing and puffing, punching and puking, hugging and humping, tweeking and twirling, sobbing and simpering taking center stage for most of the show’s two hours.
Meena Pierotti (a delightfully manic Stephanie Altholz) is like so many members of today’s work force: uninspired, unhappy and ultimately unwilling to live a life of quiet desperation. The 31-year-old managing editor for Piggeries, an American Cattle and Swine publication, Meena holds an MFA and is a published poet – albeit a published poet whose sole book (of prose poetry) was poorly reviewed and sold just 114 copies.
Bypassing any attempts at psychological therapy, life coaching or off-time diversions (other than twice-daily jaunts to the plus-sized women’s underwear section of a nearby department store for clandestine crying fits), Meena contacts pharmaceutical giant Schmidt Pharma in hopes of becoming part of a study for a new “workplace depression” drug.
During her screening, researcher Dr. Phil Gray (Peter Story) sees that Meena’s spinning, state fair-sized mood swings might make her a perfect candidate, and sets her up with an initial dosage of SP-925, which Schmidt Pharma’s marketing guru, (Kurt Johnson, in one of two roles he plays in “Rx”) dubs “Thriveon.”
Almost everyone in “Rx” gets an opportunity to exercise his or her expertise in bringing down the house, playing it large and loose one moment before pulling it in for a little woeful wallowing the next.
There’s no better example of this comic contrasting than when Johnson – as SP's marketing guy, Richard – leads Schmidt Parma project manager Allison (Melinda Parrett) in an impromptu pas de deux to celebrate the 90 percent certainty that they’ve secured Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” as Thriveon’s jingle, before collapsing in tears and rage when Phil suggests “Surviveon” is a more apt moniker for the drug.
Parrett, too, showcases her range when the by-the-book Allison takes a professional tumble and lands in the bottom of a whiskey bottle.
The corporate process in developing a marketing a new drug is really just a set piece for the up-and-down (and forbidden!) romance between Phil and Meena, which occasionally veers into the creepy. Aside from the well-stated unethical aspect of the relationship, there’s Meena’s growing dependency on her Phil-prescribed pills and the question of whether she's truly attracted to him or to the milligrams he supplies.
Her oft-repeated line, “Please don’t take me out of the study,” is a little too real to be enjoyed as a comedic plea. Similarly, Phil’s oddball (and distractingly unnecessary) foot fetish isn’t adorkable, but just weird (like Pee-wee in a porn theater).
As Meena begins to feel better, her confidence and interest in work inspires Phil, whose own career took a detour after lowering the verbal boom on a young emergency-room patient.
While Meena’s “growth” makes her work life more tolerable, including a more-collaborative relationship with her magazine’s editorial director, Simon (Jason Kuykendall), it’s causing the insecure Phil all sorts of heartache.
Luckily, Schmidt Pharma has a pill for that.
A subplot involving Meena’s chance meeting of an elderly woman (Tamara Walters) while on one of her sob sessions at the department store, seems superfluous, other than to remind that life is short and that it’s OK to treat yourself to a new pair of underwear (or a trip to the Galapagos Islands) every now and again.
Additional support (that’s less jarring in tone) is provided by Johnson in his second “Rx” role of Ed, Phil’s fellow researcher at Schmidt Pharma. An older, somewhat distracted and daft MD, Ed has to turn down Phil’s request to join his heartbreak drug study, but happily fishes for a baggy full of sample capsules that he promises will ease his pain (and possible loosen his teeth).
Johnson’s halting, deadpan delivery as the rumpled and stained Ed is one of the funniest bits in a show full of high-potency, non-generic laughs.
JUST THE FACTS
What: The West Coast premiere of Kate Fodor's new romantic comedy "Rx"
Where: The B Street Theatre (main stage), 2711 B St., Sacramento, Calif.
When: opens 7 p.m. April 29; plays through June 10 with performances at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays; 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
Who: Directed by Buck Busfield; featuring Stephanie Altholz (Meena), Peter Story (Phil), Kurt Johnson (Richard/Ed), Melinda Parrett (Allison), Jason Kuykendall (Simon), Tamara Walters (Frances)
How much: $23-$35 ($5 student rush; $15 previews)
More info: (916) 443-5300; www.bstreettheatre.org