REVIEW: Cast finds the comic combustion in story of elites and their “help.”
Who knew? Sun Mee Chomet, the Twin Cities actor known for essaying serious classical and contemporary roles, also possesses sterling comedic chops.
In “Elemeno Pea,” which opened Friday at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, Chomet plays an over-educated, underemployed social worker, Devon. Unable to find work in her field, she’s working at Olive Garden. Devon takes a quick break from her glamor job to visit her sister Simone (Grace Gealey) at her place of work, a seemingly idyllic seaside summertime compound on Martha’s Vineyard.
Chomet goes at the role with gusto. She bounces around the stage with missionary zeal, including using a pillow to illustrate a tampon. Her truth-seeking character elicits laughs not just because of her daring. The actor also demonstrates spot-on timing.
Chomet is a lynchpin in this charmingly combustible comedy by Molly Smith Metzler, directed by Mark Valdez on Richard Borgen’s expansive guesthouse set.
On its surface, the play resembles a juiced-up episode of a TV sitcom, complete with its one broke girl (Chomet) and her upwardly aspirational sister (Gealey). Simone is the personal assistant-cum-therapeutic counselor to Michaela (Laurine Price), a beautiful, educated woman who has become enfeebled by her status as a trophy wife. Michaela was supposed to have gone away with her husband for the weekend but she has suddenly returned. She is having a marital crisis and needs the full attention of Simone, without whom she can barely breathe. Michaela begins to butt heads with Devon.
The story also involves Jos-B (Pedro Bayon), a profane caretaker at the property, who curses Michaela in Spanish while kneeling and kissing her hand, and Ethan (Ron Menzel), Simone’s wealthy sailor boyfriend, who is fond of cutesy abbreviations (“situation” becomes “sitch” for this toff who likes pink, make that salmon-colored, pants).
Many of the things that playwright Metzler gets away with in this play, including some of the language, would bring grief to a writer of a different gender. But that’s part of the charm of the show.
Director Valdez has a sterling cast. Price gives an effortless performance that takes Michaela from an alienating figure to someone who deserves our sympathy. She walks us through her misunderstood character with authority.
Gealey’s performance is a beaut. Simone desires wealth, and she’s not waiting for it, but acting the part now, assuming that it’ll catch up with her. Gealey invests her future ex-trophy wife with charm, reserve and class.
The two men in “Elemeno Pea” are lesser characters made memorable by Bayon and Menzel. Bayon does a blustery, hyper-physical take on Jos-B, a character seething with resentment, while Menzel tussles his pretty boy’s hair to show Ethan’s ease in a comedy that looks like a perfect picture at first, before it begins to reveal its many cracks.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390