Review of Do You Feel Anger? at Vineyard Theatre

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    April 3, 2019
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    Titles of plays are tricky. There are simple titles. And complicated titles. Then there are titles that ask a question. Those are few and far between. I suspect that this is because a question would imply that a response is needed.

    In this case, my response to, "Do You Feel Anger?" is, "Yes.  I do indeed."

    The premise of Mara Nelson-Greenberg's play, now at the Vineyard Theatre, is this: a woman is hired as an empathy coach at a debt collection agency. Sounds good, right? I thought so. It conjures up tons of possibilities.

    Sadly, none of these were brought to the fore in this production. This play is a one trick pony that runs out of steam before it gets started. Sofia (Tiffany Villarin) is greeted on her first day of Empathy Training by Eva (Megan Hill) who seems to have downed one too many puppy uppers. Eva barely takes a breath as she mentions being mugged, that this workspace is a horrible environment and that it is also swell, and wonders if Sofia's fingernails are from her hands. A new take on gibberish, and it nearly works.

    This is a farce in the extreme sense. The extremity is not, however, supported by whatever facts are running loose in this loony office. These employees do not know how to pronounce the simplest words, like "lost" and "nervous." They shout, "Baby says No!" and refer to husbands - or was it fathers? French is mispronounced. They don't understand what crying is. This is a Spill-And-Spell Jar in steroids. Boss Jon is not far behind in defending his flock. Everyone is in a pitched battle against Sofia from the get-go and stays in that mode (with one or two blips to upper and lower levels) for the entire 90 very long minutes.

    Sofia is the "innocent" here and as one person after another Jordan (Ugo Chukwu), Howie (Justin Long) and Jon the boss (Greg Keller) hits the landing strip in pretty much the same condition as Eva, Sofia wilts on the vine. Jettison the conflict. Oops.

    Sofia presents no real resistance. This is the classic "stranger in a strange land" scenario. But when the stranger comes up with nothing stronger than a water gun for protection, we lose interest.

    The actors all acquit themselves admirably. Each gives it 100% and each has at least one or two moments of quality time. This is especially true of Keller who trod the razor's edge of sanity/insanity with precision and skill.

    This is another John Randolph moment: "You must never blame the actors." He once told me after a particularly disappointing production. I don't blame them.

    But I do feel anger. There is no story in this production beyond the tag line. No "there" there. This idea would be a hilarious 5-8 minute sketch on "Saturday Night Live". To stretch it out into a full length play was an ambitious undertaking. But much more meat is needed on those bones in order to sustain the journey from point A to wherever it was we ended up. Even the conclusion left us all baffled.

    (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

    "Now it’s empathy that’s the thing with feathers. Or that’s the perception of the impenetrably thick-skulled men who rule the workplace in Mara Nelson-Greenberg's Do You Feel Anger?, a fitful comedy with an ingenious premise, which opened on Sunday night at the Vineyard Theater under the direction of Margot Bordelon."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "A great play seems buried within Do You Feel Anger?'s excesses, but Margot Bordelon, who directed the show's world premiere at the Humana Festival last year, hasn't quite figured out how to sustain the humor until the big narrative shift. The audience gets restless, and the men overplay their outrageousness to dwindling effect. But Villarin and especially Hill make you believe in the play’s dark world—a funhouse mirror that's less distorted than one might like to believe. Laughing at the juvenile antics of the jerks onstage makes you realize how complicit we are in perpetuating them."
    Raven Snook for Time Out New York

    "Nelson-Greenberg makes her New York debut with this wild comedy. Hers is an offbeat, novel, wonderful voice. Can’t wait to hear what she tells us next."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    "Humor is often based on surprise. You laugh when you hear something coming out of a person's mouth that you didn't expect. It's a common theory that playwright Mara Nelson-Greenberg takes entirely too much to heart in her absurdist workplace comedy receiving its New York premiere at off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre. Nearly all of its characters consistently deliver lines designed to be funny in their shocking incongruity. But once you're onto the trick, which is almost immediately, Do You Feel Anger? becomes a tiresome, repetitive exercise that squanders its important themes."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter