The nation is undergoing tectonic demographic shifts at a time when technology is changing at warp speed and our status as the reigning economic superpower is threatened. So how does a playwright respond to the anxieties that many feel in the midst of these sometimes bewildering changes?
Josh Tobiessen gives us a contemporary feel-good comedy that could have been written in the 1930s.
His "Crashing the Party," which premiered Friday at Mixed Blood Theatre, is a throwback confection with a multicultural ensemble and up-to-the-minute references. Directed with zeal by Sarah Rasmussen and featuring a cast of well-paced pros, "Party" offers a comic tonic for our doldrums.
The play has more twists than a pretzel. On his birthday, irascible businessman David Martin (Joe Minjares) has come home to a surprise party being planned by his son, David Jr. (Ricardo Vasquez), and his girlfriend, Britney (Rose Le Tran), whose name he does not quite remember. David's layabout first-born, Arthur (Jack Black-like Rolando Martinez), has ordered a stripper for the occasion, a guest that he anxiously awaits.
But David's wife (and the boys' mother), Catherine (Sally Wingert), wants to take her husband out. And David has plans of his own: He has bought two one-way tickets to Morocco. The plane leaves in three hours. Meanwhile, people are constantly knocking, sometimes banging, at the door.
After such a pressurized set-up, "Party" pops its secrets like champagne corks. The show has liberal blasts of humor and a few bullets (there is a shotgun in this "Party"). Rasmussen's production is well-timed and -executed. The orchestrated jokes, even when you see them coming, land perfectly. The fanciful plot twists further the humor.
The "Party" narrative calls for hot bodies, clothed and not. The production uses them liberally. For example, actor Ansa Akyea, who played a wrestler Chad Deity not long ago, shows that he's still got his buff physique in this play. He should be paid extra for exchanging his wrestler's gear for pink tights. And Laura Esposito, who plays a pivotal junior accountant in Martin's office, bends over strategically in her sexy secretary outfit.
At Rasmussen's guidance, the cast also uses other types of physicality to convey the characters' mental states in a show that takes place on Joe Stanley's elegant, two-chandelier set (perhaps the most handsome scenic design I've seen at Mixed Blood in the last decade).
Minjares' David is wracked by demons, all of which make his expressive face sometimes resemble that of a slightly less wrinkled bulldog. He is pitch perfect as the troubled patriarch, and well-matched with the delightful Wingert, who can get laughs with just the tilt of her head or a pronunciation. Le Tran, known for her fearlessness, tamps it down a bit as the girlfriend who's trying to impress her would-be father-in-law even as the family gets under her skin. Akyea's Officer Franco, a character who raises no suspicions, is credible as well, and surprisingly funny.
The two young men who play brothers -- Vasquez and Martinez -- do so with complementary wit. Even Mo Perry's FBI agent, a late entrant to this "Party," hits the mark in a show loaded with comic zest.