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Do You Feel Anger?

Theatre Review by David Hurst - April 2, 2019


Tiffany Villarin and Megan Hill
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Mere minutes into Mara Nelson-Greenberg's grating, new play, Do You Feel Anger?, at The Vineyard Theatre, I mentally answered the question posed by her title with a resounding 'yes.' A cringe-making, absurdist comedy about a debt collection agency that hires an empathy coach to help them stem the tide of lawsuits, Do You Feel Anger? takes a shocking turn in its final scenes that's as compelling as it is unearned. But is it Nelson-Greenberg's play that set my teeth on edge, or was it director Margot Bordelon's relentlessly irritating production that left me wishing I could get up and leave? In the light of day, the answer is probably both.

First produced last year at the 42nd Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville with the same director and the same leading ladies, Do You Feel Anger? made a big splash despite receiving mixed reviews. One suspects The Vineyard snapped it up because of its controversial subject matter and outlandishly puerile bathroom humor, not to mention its eye-popping "Me-Too" ending, a coup-de-theatre for both playwright Nelson-Greenberg and scenic designer Laura Jellinek. But we'll come back to that with a spoiler alert later.

Do You Feel Anger? finds empathy coach Sofia, a vacant-eyed Tiffany Villarin, arriving in an empty conference room at an unnamed debt collection agency. She quickly meets Eva, the hilarious Megan Hill, whose rambling monologue immediately tells the audience we've left the land of realism and are firmly skipping down the road of absurdism. The misogynist office manager, Jon (Greg Keller), and Eva's two man-child colleagues, Howie (Justin Long) and Jordan (Ugo Chukwu), soon join them, and the frantic and exhausting empathy exercises ensue. Howie and Jordan make crude, sexist jokes and are clueless about the basics of human interaction. Eva makes up boyfriends to keep Howie and Jordan from hitting on her, and she's clearly traumatized by whoever keeps mugging her in the kitchen. Though it all, however, she keeps a smile on her face despite the hostility and the hopelessness. Jon, clearly comfortable talking about his sexual appetites, just wants Sofia to sign the form indicating the company is in compliance. He jokingly suggests to Sofia she should wear a dress, and later purports not to understand what a woman's period is in a stupefying exchange which represents the low-point of Nelson-Greenberg's play. Throughout, a sweater hanging on a chair and an empty coffee mug represent another colleague, Janie, who went to the bathroom years ago and never returned. Symbolism? Metaphor? Foreshadowing? Stay tuned.

Slowly, the tone of Do You Feel Anger? shifts and it's clear Nelson-Greenberg wants us to consider bigger themes and ideas. Who has the power in our office dynamics? How do women deal with violence and being violated? And how much responsibility do women bear for not supporting each other when the chips are down and men are reprehensible? The cast, which includes Jeanne Sakata making repeated appearances as Sofia's mother (she leaves her daughter phone messages about their own incredibly dysfunctional family), and Tom Aulino as an Old Man who's purportedly the boyfriend of Eva (and who threatens the agency with terrorism), works hard but they overplay everything. They're hitting a pin with a sledgehammer under Bordelon's ham-fisted direction. There is no subtlety or nuance in Nelson-Greenberg's absurdism so her desire to illuminate is dimmed before it can take flight. She may aspire to Ionesco or Pirandello, but Do You Feel Anger? lands like an extended, and painful, Saturday Night Live skit. Both Sofia's mother and the Old Man are totally extraneous subplots and could easily be excised. Until we arrive at the final scene, and the point of Do You Feel Anger?, the ridiculous nature of the proceedings is disheartening.

Spoiler Alert: But then the walls collapse, literally, and a Ladies Room is revealed. A psychedelic, mystical land where woman oppressed by callous men can retreat to lick their wounds and reflect on how they arrived at such an unbearable place. Janie is there, as is Eva and Sofia. And now Nelson-Greenberg's play is interesting! These are characters we find compelling and emotionally moving. But it's too late. We've had to endure 75 minutes of tedium and the final 15 minutes feel manipulative and self-indulgent. Sofia didn't stand up for Eva in the conference room when it counted but she sees the light in Jellinek's fabulous ladies' room and she calls her mother back after ignoring all her voicemail messages to apologize. Really? It's the bow that wraps up Nelson-Greenberg's dramedy and, quite literally, strangles it.


Do You Feel Anger?
Through April 20
The Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix


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