Off-Broadway Review: BITTER GREENS (59E59)

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by Anna Hulkower on December 14, 2018

in Theater-New York

A BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW

It is said that every playwright’s first play needs to be about themselves before they are able to move onto more expansive material. This maxim seems to hold true for Clea DeCrane’s Bitter Greens, now playing at 59E59, which covers the well-trod territory of privileged post-collegiate angst with skill, if not originality.

The play focuses on tightly wound overachiever Reyna (played by playwright DeCrane), fresh out of college, who begins to unravel after she loses out on her dream job at vaguely eco-friendly super-corporation Green Communications, while her under-motivated boyfriend Andrew (Andy Do) is hired for the same position. With her world upended, she begins to act out in all-too-familiar 22-year-old ways: ignoring her parents, having ill-advised sex, and — in the play’s most compelling element — poisoning Andrew’s morning smoothies with an overdose of vitamins. Rounding out the ensemble are Jessica Darrow and Regan Sims as her college besties, along with Ben Lorenz as an alluringly dirt-baggy delivery boy.

DeCrane writes herself the juiciest and most fleshed-out character and delivers a strong performance, her expressive eyes and quivering lips communicating Reyna’s rage and insecurity. The rest of the cast struggles somewhat to find the tone — Lorenz and Do are almost too understated, while Darrow and Sims occasionally verge on cartoonish — but as a group, they have an appealing chemistry and the relaxed physical intimacy befitting a group of old friends.

DeCrane’s script is well-constructed and engaging, and her dialogue is snappy, if not particularly witty. She is especially adept at depicting how a relationship built upon a power imbalance begins to deteriorate once that power dynamic reverses. Director Kevin Kittle makes inspired use of the small space, especially in his staging of the characters’ texting and online communication, an inherently nontheatrical but unavoidable element in portraying this milieu.

Bitter Greens bills itself as a satire of privilege, but it pulls its punches, culminating in a boilerplate airing of personal grievances and long-simmering resentments, with the help of the kind of plot contrivance that should be restricted to bad sitcoms. DeCrane touches on rich topics like the exclusionary and cultish nature of the health and wellness industry and the economic precariousness of her generation, but shies away from truly delving into them. Instead, she settles on peppering the script with über-millennial references to superfoods, Google Drive, organic cashew butter, vape pens, and enough shout-outs to Trader Joe’s that I expected to see a corporate sponsorship credit in the program. Ultimately, Bitter Greens ends up serving a smoothie most of us have drunk our fill of already — and not nearly bitter enough.

photos by Brendan Swift

Bitter Greens
Station 26 Productions
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th St
Tues-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 2:30
ends on December 23, 2018
for tickets, call 646.892.7999 or visit 59e59

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