Meg’s New Friend

I had such a great time at this show. I laughed from the opening set of lines and was genuinely touched by the final tableau. It is a wonderful little piece of theater, and it marvelously shows off the talents of the cast and crew and especially the director. This is a master class in directing comedy, where the two rules above all else are speed and honesty, and where underplaying and overplaying go in equal measure, hand in hand.

I have to say all that, because I want to make sure I’ve said that I loved being in the theater watching this play. I don’t want anything I’m about to say to read as a backhanded compliment. You see, this is a comedy, that derives its laughs from the situations the characters are put in. So… in truth… I hate to say it but… It’s just that, the right words for it are “Situational Comedy”. It’s a sit-com.

Wait, don’t jump up and down like that. It could be argued that the greatest American art form is the musical, but that’s actually bullshit. It’s the sit-com. Unless you think several hundred million people a year sit in their living rooms watching DVDs of “Finishing The Hat” and laughing their asses off. They aren’t, they’re watching TV, or DVDs of old TV. And our generation learned at the feet of sit-coms, as much as we want to quote Chekhov. This is how we speak.

But sit-coms belong on television, not in a theater, so why did I love this so much? Because, unlike so many other “playwrights” who seem to be stuck in the only medium they can afford, Blair Singer, the writer of this piece, is writing entirely for the theater. This is a language based medium, and the comedy is folded neatly, line by line, on top of itself. Television is about economy, and film is about epic vistas, but theater is about language, and Meg’s Best Friend delivers. It isn’t full of one liners, it’s full of eight liners, each joke massaged for less bang and better circumstances. These are not buffoons, they aren’t getting hit in the nuts. This is a serious look at the world that we’re waking up to, a serious attempt to deal with America in 2009… and it’s hilarious.

It opens with the characters explaining to one of their own that he’s a sexist. He denies it, but once they give him several examples it suddenly dawns on him that it’s true. In the next scene, a couple discuss what constitutes a “friend-friend” instead of a work associate, and one of them comes up with a ridiculous delineation, and it starts to dawn on you, these people don’t know who they are. Any of them. They don’t know where they fit into the world. They don’t know what their actions mean, and they don’t know how to relate to each other. They are like highly functioning social autistics. When they begin to betray one another and isolate from each other, it’s because their social lives are fundamentally dishonest, they don’t even know *how* to honestly interact.

And it’s perfect for us, for our world here in New York. And particularly perfect for The Production Company, whose work seems to always be looking at our generation’s misunderstanding of our identity. This piece is a wonderful companion piece to “Love”, where betrayal happens when we don’t know ourselves, and where one person’s otherness (In “Love” it was the woman’s obvious sex appeal, and in “Meg’s New Friend” it’s the man’s race) becomes the coin of the realm.

The difference, of course, is that “Love” was a harrowing drama, where you felt your heart being dragged across razor wire, and “Meg’s Best Friend” is really, really funny. Seriously.

I need to spend just a moment talking about Mark Armstrong. Even when I don’t like the scripts that he works with, his deft hand at crafting a play for the stage is always manically articulate. I saw the show opening night, and yet somehow the actors knew how to keep the flow of the scenes deadly tight, despite holding for laughs they couldn’t possibly know they were gonna get. The staging is meticulous, and it has to be with the space at Manhattan Theatresource. There are no black outs, there are no pauses, there is no awkward silence or brooding. These characters are using the language to sort out how they feel, they aren’t thinking thoughts and then saying them. Mark has every moment of the show activated, humming, like a bird in mid-flight.

More than that what he has done is assembled an extraordinary team of collaborators to keep the entire show pitch perfect. A special shout out to Isaac Butler for seamless and understated *sound design* and to April Bartlett for a brilliant and embedded scenic design, the sort of thing that many companies on our level don’t bother to do (ours included!). The cast is extraordinary, and I simply can’t say enough about Megan McQuillan and Damon Gupton. These two exemplify the tone that Mark has set, each playing as small as possible to make each moment honest. Megan was masterful with the language, punching and reeling and setting the tempo for each scene, and Damon was incredible with his face and body, assuming everything from a predator to a yogi with tiny adjustments simply to how he was standing or looking.

Mary Cross is in the play. I was in a play with her once, and… Look, I just adore her. I’m so crazy about her that I have no way of talking about her on stage. She made me laugh my lungs dry, and she made me cry last night, I think she’s a genius, but I can’t be trusted when it comes to Mary, you’re gonna have to go and tell me if I was right.

This is not a nut-kicking comedy. It’s interesting, there are two characters who become romantically entangled, and watching it, I thought “that works… but the heat between them isn’t really *crackling*. Too bad there isn’t more sexual tension…” and then, as the play develops, I started to understand. These two characters have been relating to the world as sexual creatures, of course they lean toward sex, but the warmth, the genuine affection they have – it’s more like friends. The only moment in the play that is allowed to breathe is the moment you realize that they’ve found an honest connection that is more than they were expecting. I don’t know if that is the brilliance of the actors, the brilliance of the director, or simply serendipity, but when the language is going a hundred miles an hour on top, and underneath there is an entirely different play happening, you know you’re seeing something really special.

Yes, it’s a sit-com. But it’s *our* sit-com, full of language that we use, and characters we recognize, and the situations we find ourselves in. Please know, I’m not dismissing it as a sit-com, I’m celebrating it. You should go see it.