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Rx
by Kate Fodor
Directed by Renee Sevier-Monsey
West End Players Guild
March 4th, 2014

Laura Singleton, Jeff Kargus Photo by John Lamb West End Players Guild

Laura Singleton, Jeff Kargus
Photo by John Lamb
West End Players Guild

They say laughter is the best medicine, although the executives at the large drug company that is the center of Kate Fodor’s satirical comedy Rx may beg to differ.  A fast-moving, witty send-up of the pharmaceutical industry, West End Players Guild’s final production of its 2013-2014 season presents a world in which there’s a prescription for many a malady, whether real, imagined, or invented.  In this well cast and (for the most part) well-paced production, WEPG provides an entertaining prescription for anyone looking for a few well-earned laughs.

In a story that plays out as more of a broadly satirical romantic comedy than the sharp indictment I had been expecting, Rx tells the story of a big pharmaceutical company, Schmidt Pharma, and the lengths to which they will go in order to market their newest product.  The plot follows Meena Pierotti (Laura Singleton), a managing editor at a trade magazine for the livestock industry who hates her job and feels increasingly hopeless and aimless, often fleeing to a nearby department store so she can hide in the ladies’ underwear department and cry.  She is admitted to the clinical trial for Schmidt Pharma’s new “workplace depression” medication where she meets Dr. Phil Gray (Jeff Kargus), who at first doesn’t seem very happy in his own job. Meanwhile, Phil is enlisted to consult in the marketing of the drug by single-minded executive Allison Hardy (Beth Davis), who doesn’t personally understand “workplace depression” because she loves her job., and Meena develops a friendship with Frances (Suzanne Greenwald), and elderly widow she meets at the department store.   As Phil’s initially awkward relationship with Meena turns romantic and Allison’s determination to develop a winning ad campaign for the drug shifts into high gear, that’s when the complications really start.  Meena’s job satisfaction starts to increase and Phil begins to wonder if this is really a good thing, Allison’s anxiety builds as legal issues threaten the drug’s marketing launch, and Frances finds a new enthusiasm for life as a result of her interactions with Meena, only to discover a health crisis of her own.

This play is very fast-moving and episodic, almost seeming more like a series of interconnected sketches than one continuing story. The pacing a a show like this is a challenge, and the great cast tries their best to rise to the challenge despite some technical issues that threaten to slow down the production.  Everything seems to be a little too frantic, with many scene changes and costume changes and the cast (especially Singleton) running around in order to make their cues and sometimes appearing hurried and breathless. The need for quick changes also seem to be a reason for a few of the ill-fitting costumes for Singleton.  The set (designed by Ethan Dudenhoeffer) is simple but spread out, and the act noticeably have to hurry to get into their positions for the various scenes. I found the use of props (organized by Rebecca Davis) to be particularly effective, though, from all the various medical equipment to the bags and bags of pills the eccentric research doctor Ed (John Lampe) keeps in his desk, and the sound (designed by Chuck Lavazzi) was put to excellent use as well, adding to the comedy especially with the use of a modified Dolly Parton song played on a recording by one of the company’s marketing guys (also played by Lampe).

This is a quickly paced, madcap kind of show, and although sometimes the technical elements struggle to keep up, the cast does an excellent job nonetheless. Kargus in particular is endearingly earnest as the nerdy Phil, who struggles to find purpose in his own life and finds it in surprising ways, mostly through his interactions with Meena, played amiably by Singleton. As a pair, these two share a charming chemistry, and their scenes together are the highlight of the show.  Singleton also has some great scenes with Greenwald as the sweetly engaging Frances, who gets some great comic lines and whose journey of self-discovery (or re-discovery) seems to parallel Meena’s.  Most of the comic weight of this production is carried by Davis as the fiercely determined Allison, especially when things start to look iffy for the drug’s trial process.  Davis’s Allison puts just as much comic energy into her disappointment as she initially invests in her drive for success, and her implosion is hilarious to watch. Lampe is also a joy in a dual role as a hilariously over-invested advertising executive and an Einstein-idolizing “mad scientist” pharmaceutical research doctor. It’s an excellent cast that provides the real focus of this production despite any technical missteps.

Simply put, in spite of its drawbacks, this show is just a whole lot of fun.  I had been expecting it to be more of a brutal satire instead of the more lighthearted romp with a few cutting moments that this turned out to be.  It does manage to be a little challenging and provides some good food for thought about the pharmaceutical industry and its marketing practices, but in a somewhat lighter vein.  The real strength of this production, though, is its excellent, engaging cast.  In the end, it’s an entertaining production full of energy, humor, and ultimately, heart.

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