Friday, December 12, 2014

"O.P.C." at the A.R.T. - Is It A-OK?- A New Play by Eve Ensler

Playwright Eve Ensler is probably best known for her acclaimed "The Vagina Monologues."   Her career has focused on shining a light on issues of disenfranchisement, marginalization and fighting injustice and inequality.  This latest play, "O.P.C." tackles a host of current political and ecological issues, in the guise of the story of a family suffering from a serious generation gap.

O.P.C. stands for "Obsessive Political Correctness."  If I had to give a very terse assessment of this play, I would simply say that in an ironic way, it suffers from its own case of Obsessive Political Correctness.  In the course of telling the story of Freegan Romi and her family, Ms. Ensler tackles consumerism, excessive waste, treatment of mental health issues, the pursuit of political power at all costs, and the vacuousness of TV interviewers like Oprah and Barbara Walters.  It feels like a stew with too many ingredients that do not pair well with each other.  The issues are presented in ways that feel polemical, pedantic and forced, as if we are listening to characters declaim set speeches rather than truly interacting with one another as fully formed human beings.

This play and its current production is ambitious, and works at levels beyond the dramatic.  The sets and costumes were all constructed from recycled or re-purposed materials, and are spectacularly effective.  Kudos to Director Pesha Rudnik, Scenic Designer Brett Banakis and Costume Designer E. Sosa for their creativity, ingenuity and commitment to express the ethos underlying this play.  In keeping with the commitment to limit waste, the A.R.T. has chosen not to print traditional programs, but encourages audience members to access an on-line version of the program.

Peter Porte as Damien
Kate Mulligan as Smith
Michael T. Weiss as Bruce
Nicole Lowrance as Kansas
Olivia Thirlby as Romi
Set by Brett Banakis
"O.P. C." at the A.R.T.
Through January 4, 2015

In a nutshell, here is the story arc.  Romi (Olivia Thirlby), named for Rome where she was conceived, has turned her back on a life of privilege to live as a Freegan, squatting in an abandoned building, dumpster diving for food and fashioning clothing out of abandoned materials, including fruit skins.  Her mother (Kate Mulligan) is running for the U.S. Senate and is embarrassed by her daughter's alternative lifestyle.  Romi's sister, Kansas (Nicole Lowrance) - also named for the place where the seed was planted in fertile soil - is a clone of the mother, mouthing vapid neo-liberal aphorisms.  She joins her mother in trying to rein in Romi's eccentricities, and in a very funny monologue, bemoans her fate and her name.  Bruce (Michael T. Weiss) is husband to Smith and father to Romi and Kansas.  He tries to mediate between his wife and Romi, but in a rather ineffectual and jejune manner.  Spurred on by her boyfriend, Damien (Peter Porte) and by her mother, Romi manages to launch a new line of clothing made from fruit skins, and makes a fortune, which she disavows out of principle.  She goes through a binge and purge cycle of buying, including a $4,000 pair of Prada boots, and then ends up hospitalized for treatment of her O.P.C.  Mother and daughter finally have a real conversation - about sex - and mother wins her coveted Senate seat, proclaiming that she now feels like a White Male!

The plot is convoluted and not always coherent, and the characters are written in a way that I was not moved to care about the fate of any of them.  A closing speech calling people to action on behalf of the planet felt more like a lame political rally than it did the denouement of a well crafted drama.

The spirit behind this play is laudable; the execution is lamentable.  In the final analysis, the whole feels less than the sum of its parts.

Creative team
ByEve Ensler
Directed byPesha Rudnik
Scenic DesignBrett J. Banakis
Costume DesignESosa
Lighting DesignBradley King
Sound DesignJane Shaw
Projection DesignShawn Sagady
MovementJill Johnson
CastingStephen Kopel, C.S.A.
Production Stage ManagerTaylor Adamik
Mrs. M and othersNancy Linehan Charles
KansasNicole Lowrance
Sister Ro and othersLiz Mikel
SmithKate Mulligan
DamienPeter Porte
Prakash and othersBabak Tafti
RomiOlivia Thirlby
BruceMichael T. Weiss

At the American Repertory Theater through January 4!

In conjunction with the run of this play, the A.R.T. is hosting several free events that delve more deeply into issues of consumerism and eliminating waste.  Log onto the link below to see details.

American Repertory Theater O.P.C. Page

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