Review by Elizabeth Ann Foster
When Castor (Maulik Pancholy) asks Curtis (Jay Armstrong Johnson) why he never showed any interest in him or his work, Curtis responds to his friend that he is a barista at a coffee place. To which Castor replies I am a shift supervisor! The delivery of the lines is fantastic, fast, and one zinger after another. Lean in and listen to catch all the subtleties and references. You think the last character is amazing and won’t be topped, stage right, and the next girl arrives with more merriment.
The hilarious banter goes on nonstop for one-hour forty-five minutes. Ensure you use the restroom before curtain; you will laugh heartily. One patron said he only drank half of his glass of white wine in preparation for the production.
Set in a tacky rental in Palm Springs, the action takes place today – this weekend. A group of men puts together a post-pandemic getaway. As each one arrives, backstories surface. Now the friends, including their rental host we meet, have one thing in common – they are gay. It ends there. The cast of characters could not be more diverse. The plot could be about any group of friends reuniting after years of seclusion. Some have relocated now that they can work remotely. Realizing they have all done their inner work or therapy and have grown, they can choose their friends and do not have to put up with relationships that are so pre-pandemic.
The rental condo recreated by scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado is high maintenance like our cast of girls. Watching before the house opened, we witnessed an intense cleaning exercise. A half-hour of cleaning glass sliders, panes of windows, glass tabletops, acrylic-backed chairs, and all the kitsch ensured a fingerprint-free set. Hilarious frames, art on the walls, throw pillows of Xanax, and gold banana statues complete the look. All of this made you feel you were in the rental experience with everyone in the cast for the first time. The stage cutaway highlights the roofline and exposes the entire apartment. Ingenious.
What is so refreshing and democratic about this play is that all voices are present. No longer are the loudest voices the only heard. People can speak the truth as they know it or express their feelings. There is a fervent Trump supporter in the group. At first, its taboo, and the culprit, Bernie (Bryan Batt), is ostracized. Then he tells the others that everyone can like or dislike who they want. Silencing people is over.
Since their gay circle has become legal and culturally accepted, no more hiding; some of the fun has gone. The girls are trying to find their way and themselves. Pancholy’s monologue at the end is simply beautiful. Some banter may be lost if you are not part of the community, but there is enough to keep even the straightest person doubled over with laughter.
Thought-provoking. Funny. Written by a living playwright who raises many questions and cocktails – and leaves the answers to each of us. No pontificating here.
To My Girls – by JC Lee
With Bryan Batt (Bernie), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Curtis), Carman Lacivita (Jeff), Maulik Pancholy (Castor), Noah J. Ricketts (Omar), Britton Smith (Leo).
Directed by scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado, costume designer Sarafina Bush; lighting designer Jen Schriever; sound designer Sinan Refik Zafar; movement by Patrick McCollum; casting by The Telsey Office.
To My Girls is a Donna and Ben M. Rosen commission, and the production is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Off-Broadway Original Second Stage Theater/Tony Kiser Theater 305 West 43RD Street New York, NY https://2st.com/ limited run previews 3/15-4/9 Opens 4/9 tentatively check website for updates through April 24th Tuesday- Thursday 7 pm Friday and Saturday *pm Matinees at 2 pm Wednesday and Saturday and 3 pm Sunday. Run time 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission. Refreshments are available at the bar before and after the performance, and bottled water is permitted in the theater.
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