Los Angeles Theater Review: RX (Lost Studio)

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by Paul Birchall on January 15, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

A SHOW THAT’S BETTER THAN PROZAC

Been to the drugstore lately?  Sick of taking semi-useless pills three times a day every day?  You’ve got your Losartan and your Lisinopril.  You’ve got your yummy Sarafem and your delicious Celexa.  There’s Venlafaxine and Mirtazapine.  Zoloft and Paxil.  To paraphrase the line from the movie The President’s Analyst, even Bedouins hate the pharmaceutical companies.  And, really, if you put your mind to it, it is the juxtaposition of health, marketing, and greedy commerce that makes your Average Joe think of Satan and his lesser demons when they consider the folks who run the drug companies.

Kirsten Kollender and Jonathan Pessin in a scene from Kate Fodor's "Rx" at Lost Studio in Los Angeles

They are such safe villains.  Who hasn’t rolled their eyes when watching a commercial for some palliative dainty, as the voice-over launches into the long litany of ridiculous side effects – night sweats, loose teeth, kidney pain, blindness, stroke, agonizing ear pain, coma, death – which is followed by a creamy voice intoning, “If you think that this pill might help, see your doctor.”  Not for all the tea in China, thanks.

Mina Badie and Jonathan Pessin in a scene from Kate Fodor's "Rx" at Lost Studio in Los Angeles

In her charmingly fresh play, Rx, Kate Fodor takes the ruthless world of Big Pharm and uses it as an unlikely setting for a delightfully piquant romantic comedy.  Yet it’s also quite a droll satire of the pharmaceutical business and our need to find easy solutions to emotional complexities that are anything but simple.

Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema review of Kate Fodor's "Rx" at Lost Studio in Los Angeles

Meena (Mina Badie) is a smart, talented young woman who once published a book of poetry, but lost confidence in herself and took a job editing a trade newspaper for the beef and pork industry.  She hates her job so much she sneaks out of her office several times a day to weep in the underwear section of the department store next door.  Fortunately, Big Pharm is there to help, and Meena decides to enter a clinical study for “Thriveon,” a new drug that has been concocted particularly for workplace depression.

Mina Badie and Jonathan Pessin in a scene from Kate Fodor's "Rx" at Lost Studio in Los Angeles

“Thriveon” is the brain child of pharm company marketing whiz kid Allison (Kirsten Kollender), a ferocious shark-like gal who loves nothing more than rolling millions to her company through the hawking of drugs people don’t really need.  If you offered her the choice of a pill that cures a disease or one that just soothes the symptoms and requires endless doses, Allison would choose the latter.

K Callen and Mina Baddie in a scene from Kate Fodor's "Rx" at Lost Studio in Los Angeles

As Meena enters the drug study, she and Phil (Jonathan Pessin), the doctor assigned to oversee her dosages and keep track of her condition, start to fall in love.  But when the drug starts to take effect, and Meena’s workplace mood improves, unexpected complications ensue, putting her love life in jeopardy.

Michael Dempsey and Kirsten Kollender in a scene from Kate Fodor's "Rx" at Lost Studio in Los Angeles

As the neurotic office gal, Badie is thoroughly entertaining as she evolves from self-loathing nebbish to confident career woman, Pessin offers a turn that is mildly reminiscent of a hotter Woody Allen, and Kollender is beautifully brittle, her venomous pharmaceutical company hack a toxic delight.

Kirsten Kollender and Jonathan Pessin in a scene from Kate Fodor's "Rx" at Lost Studio in Los Angeles

Director John Pleshette’s staging is crisp with tight pacing that engagingly focuses the sometimes dark comic timing.  One of Pleshette’s clear skills is to get into the heads of Fodor’s characters, who seem remarkably multi-dimensional and psychologically vivid – he’s a particularly nice match with Fodor’s assured dialogue.

Mina Badie and James Donovan in a scene from Kate Fodor's "Rx" at Lost Studio in Los Angeles

The playwright’s ear for snarky one liners is exceedingly effective, and her smart and funny script is nicely character-driven while possessing a surprising awareness about the angst of modern life.  True, the sensibility sometimes tends towards sitcom in terms of presentation – but any potential broadness is undercut by the ironic pharmaceutical industry satire.  Also surprisingly touching is the play’s underlying message that life ultimately just contains some sadness; that we use drugs to balm at our peril.  Heartbreak, mid-life despair, rage:  These are sometimes just the burdens we must bear and with which we must make peace.

Jonathan Pessin and Mina Baddie

photos by Michael Lamont

Rx
Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave.
scheduled to end on March 1, 2014
for tickets, call (323) 960-7780 or visit www.plays411.com/rx
for more info, visit www.theloststudio.com

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