Misadventures and More at Annex Theatre’s Patty
With a title like The Strange Misadventures of Patty, Patty’s Dad, Patty’s Friend Jen, and a Whole Bunch of Other People, Annex Theatre’s new production (through August 27; tickets: $5-$15) tips you off right away that it’s going to force some whimsy upon you. It’s not the worst thing to have pressed upon you, it’s just that there’s a compelling real-life drama at the heart of the play that all the kicky antics serve mainly to distract from.
In Allison Moore‘s play, directed by Amy Poisson, corporate economist Patty (Marianna de Fazio) is abruptly woken from her good-life autopilot by her estranged, alcoholic father’s stroke, and confronted by the complex series of negotiations rising from his new vulnerability and dependency. We don’t see her past experiences, just her bewildered, frustrated father (Jon Lee) mangling his way through explanations, justifications, and proud-papa-isms.
Lee and de Fazio are very good together; there’s almost a Method fierceness in Lee’s portrayal of an aphasic old man, previously stunned by his alcoholism. A reprobate’s cackle infiltrates his fond reminiscences of Patty’s childhood, but he can grow frighteningly angry as well.
This is kitchen-sink drama territory (lit by Jessica Trundy), with the brute reality of forms that need to be signed, care providers to be hired, and therapeutic modalities to be weighed. But these trials in the-world-as-it-is also supports the dramatic movement of the play, which is about a father and daughter struggling to learn how to speak with each other again. In Jennifer Zeyl’s thoughtful puzzle-box set, Patty’s dad’s apartment is recessed so that it can roll forward, making explicit his intrusion into her life. (Conversely, when it recedes, he’s out of mind.)
It can be heavy stuff, so the cartoon, ass-slapping comedy of Patty’s sexist workplace, if not all that funny, at least lightens the load briefly. That’s part of a subplot that might be titled “Patty Learns to Be Assertive and Express Her Anger,” which takes place mainly in a coffee shop. Jason Pead (who also plays Patty’s antediluvian boss) is the definitive barista-in-a-band. De Fazio makes a great straightwoman for Pead–she can hold her own with an awkward, arms-length cuddle with Lee, then shift gears for updated That Girl-style social comedy.
What never clicked for me, though, was the “zaniness” of Patty’s cancer-researcher roommate Jen (Kelsey Yuhara), who also has a variety of superpowers that she gives up using for the majority of the play to prove a point to her boyfriend Jack (Alec Wilson) that her accomplishments are her own. Costume designer Christine Meyer outfits Yuhara in Scott Pilgrim-worthy attire (and later outdoes herself with de Fazio’s ensemble), but there’s little reason for this character’s existence, dramatically, except as a foil for the presumed seriousness of economics-minded Patty. (Here’s the counterpoint position. It’s a matter of record that I stare blankly at the manufactured wacky and zany.)
The capably zany Juliet Waller Pruzan has choreographed a few numbers for the piece–some coming off better than others. The otherwise talented ensemble are not seasoned Broadway hoofers, and Waller Pruzan’s calls for quick, light heel taps looked a little labored on opening night. The scene at a dance club (that’s Robertson Witmer’s sound design), having a dramatic goal as well as a dance break, was kinder to the actors.
At the end, my companion said, “I give it a ‘meh.’” Nuances are important: I took that as a “I didn’t love it, but all right if you’re paying.” If you have some tolerance for Annex’s risk-taking on newer works, and even a guilty delight in the goofy, I think you might really enjoy the work. If, like me, you’re content to watch the outstanding performances of de Fazio and Lee, you may find that play within a play is enough for your $15.