Mixed Blood Theatre’s new show is a sort of “Downton Abbey” for the yachting set.
Molly Smith Metzler wrote “Elemeno Pea,” whose title comes from the singsong-y way children recite the alphabet, after a spell waiting tables at a yacht club on Martha’s Vineyard. It opens Friday in Minneapolis with a cast drawn from both coasts.
The comedy, directed by Mark Valdez, brings the lives and concerns of the help to the forefront. Simone, the assistant to a wealthy family on Martha’s Vineyard, is being visited by her temporarily down-and-out sister, Devon, when the mistress of the estate, Michaela, unexpectedly returns. She has had a falling-out with her husband. Things go awry.
“This play is part of our exploration of money and class,” said Mixed Blood founder Jack Reuler, who became a fan of the comedy when it was written in 2011. “Those issues, plus race and gender, define so much about our lives.”
Twin Cities return
The production marks the return of Laurine Price to the Twin Cities stage as Michaela. Several years ago, Price suddenly decided to quit her job as a project manager at Cargill and to pursue her dreams.
“One day I looked across the sea of cubicles and just said no,” she said. “I didn’t practice poetry in front of a mirror at age 7 to become a project manager in a sea of cubicles. That’s not my dream.”
Price went to graduate school at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
In the Twin Cities, she was known for playing sweet princesses, including Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” at the Ordway and Jasmine in “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” at Children’s Theatre. “But when I got to L.A. after graduate school, casting agents told me that I was the mean girl,” she said.
Michaela, her “Pea” character, is that and more.
“She’s a rich beyotch with all capital letters,” said Price. “She’s spiteful and mean to people. She’s like the characters Susan Lucci plays. A director once told me that the harshest shells give way to the softest interiors. I think that all Michaela’s slashing is just a survival technique.”
Actor Ron Menzel, who plays wealthy bachelor sailor Ethan in “Pea,” is a Duluth native familiar to audiences in the Twin Cities, where he performed in about a dozen productions at the Guthrie Theater. He became an itinerant actor a few years ago and comes to the show from New York, where he will return.
“My character’s role model is Ferris Bueller,” Menzel said. “He has this breezy New England sense of ease about him. Whenever something [bad] happens, everything always works out.”
Like Halle Berry
The cast includes newcomer Grace Gealey, a Cayman Islander who trained at the University of South Florida and the University of California, Irvine.
Gealey plays Simone, the assistant who thinks that she has rights to the property.
“Simone is very tenacious; that’s what I like about her,” said Gealey. “She comes from Buffalo, New York, which is not the best beginning, but through perseverance, she gets into Yale.” She likens Simone to “Halle Berry, someone who didn’t have the best start in life.”
But her big sister, Devon, played by Sun Mee Chomet, disagrees with that assessment.
“Her celebrity role model should be Kim Kardashian,” Chomet said. “She’s about show and status and those things. My character is much more grounded, maybe because I work at Olive Garden and am back living with my mom.”
Chomet sees the play making a larger point.
“There’s a disconnect between our struggles and our fascination with wealth, the harder things get,” she said. “It’s like in the Depression, but now there are people pretending that all this isn’t happening to them, so they sport Louis Vuitton purses or fake ones.”
The cast is rounded out by Pedro Bayon, who plays the property’s caretaker. “Jos-B,” he said, is “like Pitbull or Steven Spielberg. He likes to think that he’s in charge.”