Here is a production that young people can especially enjoy. Hailing from Edinburgh, A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity and Clean deliver two stories of women looking to stake their claims in society while seeking a thrill. One is a lyrical, action-packed narrative; the other is a smart and witty comedy. It’s like watching a prime-time drama and sitcom back-to-back, only far more satisfying. There is a play on the words “clean” and “vulgar” in their respective titles, but no grand collation or anything of the sort. Instead, you’re served two brilliantly written plays that tickle an itch for entertainment.
The show begins with Clean, yes Clean, in spite of the order headed on the playbill. Three women who go by the names Zeinab (Emma Dennis-Edwards), Chloe (Jade Anouka), and Katya (Chloe Massey) are introduced and passed off as leading video game heroines. Street-smart and brazen, the writer portrays them as masters of “clean crime.” Though the characters are, admittedly, tropes to the crime genre – the street-wise credit swindler, the glam jewel thief, and the Russian honey trap – it works in favor of crafting the premise of their conflicts, especially when they are forced to work together.
The story is delivered at a fast pace. Monologues cut into and interrupt one another, but the language maintains a poetic prose and drums like a slam. Chloe and Katya have a stiff rivalry, while Zeinab plays the spirited mediator, “keepin’ it real.” The women undertake a mission of personal revenge for their proprietor, Caitlin, to destroy a multimillion dollar videogame made by a rival club owner – the peak of a man’s ambition. The performance is artfully simplistic; just three women and three stools in the spotlight. No props, nor the need for a costume change. The tension and actions are cinematically verbalized. How it all goes down is so silly that you’re sure to crack a smile.
A Respectable Widow kicks off second in this double feature. Here you’ve got the classic pairings for a comedy; the mother and son, the boss and employee, the lady and the tramp, the teacher and student, all juxtaposed on a single stage. Newly widowed society woman, Annabelle (Joanna Tope), takes an interest in her late husband’s boyish employee, Jim (Gavin Jon Wright), and his crass, unabated language. She calls him into her office to grill him on the use of vulgar words, and a shaky bond begins to unfold.
Annabelle’s character is like an enthusiastic schoolgirl seeking an outlet for her bottled emotions. Her attempt to understand, refine, and classify rude colloquialism is comically absurd. It’s hard not to give into her triumph in breaking from the niceties of her societal mold, while eating a hamburger beside a reluctant and baffled Jim. There’s a delicate buildup of plot and anticipation, so by the middle of the performance you’ll be giddy with laughter at each uttered cuss. Before the end of the play, you’re left feeling the ephemeral moments of an unlikely friendship.
Clean – By Sabrina Mahfouz, directed by Orla O’Loughlin
WITH: Jade Anouka (Chloe), Emma Dennis-Edwards (Zainab), and Chloe Massey (Katya)
A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity – By Douglas Maxwell, directed by Orla O’Loughlin
WITH: Joanna Tope (Annabelle), and Gavin Jon Write (Jim)
Set by Patrick McGurn; Sound by Tom Saunders and Kevin McCallum; Lighting by Claire Elliot; Assistant Director, Bella Loudon; Staff Director, Emily Reutlinger; Stage Manager, Kara Jackson; Production Manager, Kevin McCallum; Lighting and Sound Technician, Tom Saunders; Head of Stage, Gary Staerck; Chief Electrician, Renny Robertson; Deputy Electrician, Claire Elliot; AEA Stage Manager, Raynelle Wright At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, Manhattan, 212-279-4200, www.59E59.org. Through April 27. Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes