Boy meets girl. Girl hates her job. Like, hates it hates it. “Disappears twice daily to the granny panty section of a nearby department store to bawl” kind of hates it. Boy has a magic pill that can change her 9 to 5 from unbelievably depressing to wildly fulfilling. Such is the foundation for Kate Fodor’s lively play RX, currently enjoying a sure-handed regional premiere at Kitchen Dog Theater under the direction of company member Christopher Carlos.
It’s this relatable office drone premise, mixed with some truly outstanding performances, that makes the play soar despite its inherently awkward pacing. Choppy, sitcom-style scenes and more set changes than you can shake a thermometer at disrupt the flow of an otherwise engaging rom-com romp through our overmedicated society.
Meena Pierotti (a glorious Tina Parker, fearlessly acting all the way down to her toes) is the schlumpy managing editor of American Cattle and Swine magazine who desperately wants to enroll in the wonder drug’s clinical trial. It’s not so much that she wants to enjoy her job more—she wants to enjoy her life more. “I just think I was meant for better things,” she sadly confides to Phil Gray, the doctor in charge of her bi-monthly medical checkups.
Phil (Max Hartman) understands. He used to want to work in emergency medicine until he started thinking maybe his patients should just be allowed to continue on with natural selection. Now he works for Schmidt Pharma, a gargantuan corporation dedicated to pumping out drugs we’ll all crave for the rest of our lives (a pill for heartbreak is currently in the works).
When Phil discovers Meena’s background as a published poet, it unlocks an (admittedly comical) artistic longing deep within him, and he begins to envision the sort of life he might lead: curing river blindness in Africa, nurturing a newfound photography hobby, loving the needy, lost woman in the hospital gown who sits self-consciously before him.
As the two tentatively take their first steps toward romance, Fodor drops delicious bites of both despair and hope in their path. Despair comes in the perky form of Martha Harms, playing Phil’s manically energetic boss, Allison Hardy, the queen of corporate crap. It seems as though Schmidt Pharma should be figuring out how to bottle Allison’s enthusiasm for cubicles and red tape rather than wasting its time on silly little pills. Harms plays the role with a dangerous hint of unstable malice bubbling beneath her perfectly manicured shell, making the cutting insults she chirps through gritted teeth and stretched smiles all the funnier.
Jane Willingham is the hope, taking us on a complete journey in only three scenes as the elderly, lonely widow who interrupts Meena’s crying jags because she needs new underwear. The tender relationship they inadvertently cultivate helps put Meena’s problems in perspective, and Willingham never oversells her character’s emotions.
Add to all that an Advent calendar of a set by Bryan Wofford that revels in bland industrial furniture and a “doctor’s office yellow” color scheme, evocative lighting by Linda Blase, and a self-aware playlist by sound designer John M. Flores that’s guaranteed to make you chuckle, and this RX is like Prozac, ready to cure even the dreariest of workdays.