Fresh fare

Smart work from the Brown/Trinity Rep Playwrights Repertory Theatre
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 30, 2008
TV EYE: Janson and Chao in Girls On the Clock.

For the fourth consecutive summer, Brown/Trinity Playwrights Repertory Theatre has been showcasing new work by emerging playwrights, performed by Brown-affiliated actors under artistic director Lowry Marshall in Stuart Theater. In its last weekend (through August 2), this year’s fare ranges from the story of a young man’s unusual love conflict to a look behind the scenes at a television network to a double bill delving into the international art world and a farcical examination of right-wing paranoia.

Girls On The Clock [July 31 8 pm + Aug 2 4 pm]
As things start out, Sandy (Charise Greene) and Cristin (Gillian Williams) are co-producers on one of those reality TV shows that cause measurable IQ decline. It’s called Mommy Makeover and doesn’t so much reflect any known reality as reinforce American cultural delusions about the actual one. For example, Sandy has no compunctions about fabricating a “Frankenbite,” a soundbite voiceover splicing together words from different sentences, to have their latest subject thank the show for changing her life. Trouble is, their shoplifting, bulimic current victim is desperate to get out of doing the show because losing 30 pounds has involved . . . well, basically torture.

Cristin doesn’t need her job, having a wealthy hedge fund analyst husband at home. But Sandy is a single and single-minded career woman, with bells on. “I can be a little strident when I’m stressed out, and I’m always stressed out,” she says, boastfully adding, “and it’s not something I’m working on.”

Playwright Diana Fithian makes us complicit in Sandy’s meanness by giving her plenty of laugh lines, and Greene sells them like she’s competing with Las Vegas showgirls to give the audience their money’s worth. Crucially, Sandy becomes a character we love to hate, which makes this comedy, directed by Mia Rovegno, breeze by.

Sandy is agreeable enough when she needs to be, such as with Cristin, whom she has to work with, and fiancé Rob (Per Janson), in charge of post-production, with whom she catches an occasional in-office quickie. So she saves her sarcasm and troublemaking for Blair (Zoë Chao), the chirpy young assistant to the executive producer. His firing soon leaves her unprotected.

Catch that? There is a promotion open. Sandy and Cristin certainly did, so there is an unspoken tension between them. But it’s Blair that Sandy gives a hard time, not letting any opportunity for criticism pass, whether the matter is petty or significant. That’s supposedly to toughen the young woman into a competent professional, the painful way that Sandy herself was trained. Blair doesn’t notice the generosity as she observes, when she finally unburdens herself to Cristin, “It would be so much better to be sexually harassed!”

Girls On the Clock is a tight little play that’s bound to go places. Greene’s ingenious creation of the key role is all-important to its success — if Sandy truly came across as strident, we’d find her as hard to take as Blair does. Fithian has crafted a delicious little guilty-snack-box of a comedy.

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