'Let's Call Her Patty' review — Leslie Kritzer adds comedic meat to thin play

Read our review of Zarina Shea's Let's Call Her Patty, starring Rhea Perlman, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, and Arielle Goldman, off Broadway through August 27.

Amelia Merrill
Amelia Merrill

Comedian and actor Rhea Perlman’s return to the stage seems tailor-made for her: She plays the title character in Zarina Shea’s Let’s Call Her Patty, a show about an Upper West Side woman who wields kitchen knives and a Brooklyn accent with aplomb. It is not Perlman's fault that the LCT3 play, now running at the Claire Tow Theater and directed by Margot Bordelon, is lacking any substance to sustain the character’s witticisms.

Let’s Call Her Patty is narrated by Sammy (Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer in classic form), Patty’s niece. Though Patty doesn’t agonize over Sammy’s every decision as she does with her biological daughter, she did raise Sammy after the death of her sister, Sammy’s mother. Sammy tells the audience repeatedly that a place makes a person — that is, that Patty is shaped by her Upper West Side environs, and that her personality would be different if she lived in, for example, Arizona with retirees and Sammy’s wife’s dying mother.

Patty is a walking Upper West Side stereotype: a Jewish woman of a certain age who doesn’t work, who has a car but doesn’t like to drive it, who takes a plethora of exercise classes and frets over her appearance. She’s a Democrat, but not too left-leaning. She’s Jewish, but not in a way that seems to matter to the plot; she just likes to kvetch at her unseen husband and eat Chinese takeout and complain about the JCC. Her relationship to New York is similarly superficial, defined only by its punchlines.

Despite its shortcomings of both delivery and development, Let’s Call Her Patty is rife with plot: Patty learns her daughter Cecile (Arielle Goldman), a wayward artist who has perhaps inherited her mother’s disordered eating patterns, has a drug problem. We don’t know how or when it started, only that it’s escalated and that rehab is expensive and ineffective. (This is a notable problem in a country where the for-profit drug treatment model dominates, though this is not the focus of the play.)

Goldman is given almost no time to convey her struggles or indeed anything meaningful about her character. She communicates her anxiety most often through physical tics rather than dialogue, an interesting premise that suffers simply because Cecile is not onstage enough. The play isn’t about her, but Patty; but really, it’s about Sammy, or the tenuous ties among the women. Let’s Call Her Patty isn’t grounded enough to feel like it’s about anything.

Its monologues feel like they were written just to be monologues (every audience member at Lincoln Center knows about climate change; paragraphs reminding us of its existence aren't revolutionary or even interesting). Shea seems to have written Patty so that an actor like Perlman could sell tickets to other Upper West Siders. A place makes a person insofar as the Upper West Side makes theatregoers with disposable incomes.

Kritzer is the production’s saving grace, a study in both perfectly timed delivery and physical comedy. She drops to the floor and rolls under set pieces like a school child in a fire drill, winks at the howling audience as she wisecracks about Patty, and convinces us that an unseen dog is truly onstage. Already a veteran character actor sculpted in the likeness of Perlman, Kritzer carries the play as it meanders and then abruptly concludes. Though Perlman’s comedic chops still shine in some moments, Kritzer’s Sammy is both the heart and humor of the piece. Neither talent, however, is enough to make up for Let’s Call Her Patty’s creative stagnation.

Let’s Call Her Patty is at the Claire Tow Theater through August 27. Check back for information on Let’s Call Her Patty tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer and Rhea Perlman in Let's Call Her Patty. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

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