No good deed goes unpunished, as we all know. But maybe sometimes punishment is appropriate — especially when the motives behind those deeds are questionable.
Eric Pfeffinger’s provocative, smart follows two Americans in Cambodia — Bill (David Ingram), a sweetly befuddled businessman and Cara (Brenny Rabine), an emotionally vulnerable housewife/teacher — as they choose to Help Other People. In Bill’s case, this involves rescuing an underage prostitute from the clutches of Kaliyan, her scarily conniving madam (Bi Jean Ngo); for Cara, it means adopting a baby. Both Bill and Cara are earnestly confident in their own selflessness. So how come everything keeps getting worse?
Person seems to pay homage to two 20th-century giants: George Bernard Shaw (specifically his Pygmalion, where Eliza Doolittle is reinvented only to find herself unemployable) and Bertolt Brecht (in the notion that enlightened self-interest, embodied here by an ambitious young woman named Lakshmi (Nandita Shenoy), may be the only practical option any of us really has).
Of course, Shaw and Brecht set a high benchmark, and Pfeffinger isn’t there yet. Person, aiming to be at once a pointed social satire and a wacky comedy, doesn’t always hit either target unerringly. But the basic idea is both clever and true, and the dialogue often wonderfully punchy (as when Kaliyan tells Bill, with deadly accuracy, that “No man has ever found 18 years old too young. Not in the history of the world”). And for the most part, the play gets better — more nuanced and layered — as it goes along.
InterAct’s visually sleek production is directed by Paul Meshejian and acted by a fine ensemble with comic brio. The brisk pace, snappy go-go score, and sharp delivery evokes, not inappropriately, those stylish “adult” comedy movies of the ‘60s that featured Jack Lemmon, Debbie Reynolds, et al. But for all that Meshejian and company score high points for humor, this approach also softens Person's dark underpinnings.
Through June 23, The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St., ,
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