For the first hour of “Elemeno Pea,” the target audience seems to be people who hope that a class war in America will end with multimillionaires chopped into tiny bits and sprinkled as fertilizer.
The most prosperous one percent are represented by Michaela (Devon Chandler), a petulant and imperious snob; Ethan (Jeff Madar), a smug parasite who makes Thurston Howell III look as enlightened as Gandhi; and Michaela’s absent husband, a bullying sadist who treats her with undisguised contempt.
Naturally, we start to side with the less economically advantaged characters in Molly Smith Metzler’s comedy. But are they any more endearing?
Simone (Chesson Kusterer), Michaela’s personal assistant, spinelessly apes her boss and sweeps up after Michaela’s emotional outbursts. Jos-B (Victor A. Cordova) – so named because the family already employs another Latino named José – sucks up to Michaela in person and spews bile at her in private.
Even Devon (Laurie Poole), Simone’s sister and the presumed voice of sanity from the outside world, is jealous of Simone under the guise of concern for her. It’s hard to warm up to this interloper, once we learn that she threw away a job to cross the country and move in with the online boyfriend/porn addict she had never met.
So what does Metzler want from us in this comedy, which Carolina Actors Studio Theatre performs with zest?
Should we respond with glee that the rich suffer heartbreak like the rest of us, and money can’t fend off misery? (Though it seems to do so for the superficially happy Ethan.)
Is this a cautionary tale about throwing our lives away in pursuit of golden idols? Simone copies the speech patterns and ideas of her boss and, like her, seems about to marry a rich guy who won’t be a good match. (Either Kusterer or director Michael Simmons had the clever idea that Simone and Michaela should unwittingly share body language, too.)
Is Metzler, a State University of New York-Geneseo grad, loosing an attack on Yale University? All the characters but Jos-B and Devon went there and became twits and tyrants
Or is it simply a merciless satire of people who neither know themselves nor have any regard for those around them? I thought so, until a late revelation inspired sympathy for Michaela and suggested we should be careful about judging these characters. (It came too late for us to stop judging them, however. And the nimrods remained nimrods.)
All five actors strike the right notes; Madar deserves special credit for making the blathering, selfish Ethan not just tolerable – which he would never be in life – but funny.
Dee Blackburn’s remarkable set gives us a panorama of sky and water behind the wide picture windows of Michaela’s guest house, where Simone lives. Her remarkable work has underpinned many recent CAST productions, never more effectively than here.
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