By Sarah Downs
The Hope Hypothesis, the new quicksilver comedy by Cat Miller lives the adage: when the world goes crazy we have to laugh or we’ll cry — and if we’re talking about the dizzying insanity of government bureaucracy, that goes double.
Amena (Soraya Broukhim), a Syrian immigrant, has arrived at a nameless government office to get her U.S. papers, and tumbles into the dangerous rabbit hole that is U.S. bureaucracy in the age of Right Wing political dominance. From the first moment the Teller (Wesley Zurick) brushes her off, Amena already has one foot on a banana peel. Two FBI agents, played with droll aplomb by William Ragsdale and Greg Brostrom invoke mysterious ‘shadow’ law, and the spin begins, ‘spin’ being the operative word. Its centripetal force ensnares anyone and everying, including Amena’s fiance Brendan (Charlie O’Rourke) and even her attorney Carol (a quietly unflappable Mary E. Hodges). The hubris of a government of old white men pervades the action. Gung-ho American hegemony meets boys and their toys.
The actors are uniformly excellent, with spot-on timing. As the Teller, Wesley Zurick is hysterical. His bright eyed and bushy tailed ambition never misses a beat. As his sweetly bemused, defensive Supervisor Connor Carew almost melts your heart. The opposite of a climber, he has landed this job and he is here to stay. Amena remains the voice of reason while Brendan finds himself rather easily overwhelmed. Miller’s writing brims with biting, intelligent humor, sly reference and verbal Chimera. As Director she easily keeps the action apace, hovering in the sweet spot between too much and too little. 75 minutes go by in a trice.
The compact, mobile set by Zöe Hurwitz, with its grey walls and windows perfectly evokes the depression of a generic office space. A quick turn of a door handle and one interior space is transformed into another. That very speed adds a dramatic element of its own. The set is far more efficient than government, but every bit as much a trap.
The Hope Hypothesis centers around the ideas of hope, deceit and futility – and it’s incredibly funny. Alas, in the post 9/11 era, an era of ‘shadow’ government and specious laws that ensnare innocent people no longer sounds like something out of Robert Ludlum. It’s front page Washington Post. Miller has mined a little gold out of this absurdity. The irony of the lesson of the hope hypothesis, referenced in one of the plays anchoring moments of sanity is startling: “Everyone has lost hope and so everyone is either trying to destroy himself or destroy everyone else.” Could there be a more perfect metaphor for America, 2019?
The Hope Hypothesis, written and directed by Cat Miller, with Soraya Broukhim, Wesley Zurick, Charlie O’Rourke, William Ragsdale, Greg Brostrom, Connor Carew and Mary E. Hodges. Scenic design by Zöe Hurwitz; costume design by Katja Andreiev; lighting design by Bailey L. Rosa; and sound design by M. Florian Staab. Presented by the Voyage Theater Company at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture (18 Bleecker St.) through November 15th. For tickets go to sheencenter.org/hope or call the Sheen Center Box Office at (212) 925-2812.