Tell It To Me Slowly
nytheatre.com review by Hannah Gold
August 15, 2009
The company has already arrived, and Pam is in the middle of having her fourth wall redecorated. Of course these are no ordinary guests, but rather a fully equipped crew of TV cameramen, and one positively Machiavellian producer, invading her household to document every precious moment of her and her family's formerly bearable, suburban life—and did I mention that those walls need molding? Perspective is given a glossy new coat in Daniella Shoshan's Tell It To Me Slowly, a triumphant piece directed by Jeremiah Matthew Davis that puts reality TV under high exposure.
The premise of the show is quirky, comfortable—totally relatable. The aforementioned Pam is the mother of a drug-addled son, Lucas, in desperate need of treatment, but deprived of the funds required to get it. The family therefore enlists the help of a reality TV show, which broadcasts stories of families dealing with addiction, on the condition that the show pays for his rehab.
Several characters add to this lovable, viewer-friendly mix. Pam also has an adolescent daughter, Noah who in the very first scene waxes poetic to a cameraman about hummus and its curious ability to break down the fourth wall. I must add that Noah's little rant is the best I've ever heard on the topic of spreads, dips, tapenades, and the like—Mary Quick delivers the monologue and the rest of the show with a special, tahini-induced angst. The family is rounded off by Noah's little brother, Squish, and her adopted brother, Peng, who are both training to be Olympic divers, and both give a tinge of well-exercised, youthful innocence to the very adult show. And let's not forget Pam, the tightly wound, single-parent, played with extraordinary depth by Piper Gunnarson, who claims she just wants her living room clean and her bathroom tiles shining. If she could have it her way, the show would be less Celebrity Rehab, more Home Improvement. Put all of these elements together and you get a surefire hit, maybe even prime time material if the show can find itself a reliable demographic.
Equally intriguing are the stories of those on the other side of the camera. These are the characters whose livelihoods depend upon two absolute words: point and shoot. At the base of the cast pyramid (or tripod, whichever you prefer) are the nameless cameramen. Cameraman 1 is a sensitive soul who really just wants to make documentaries about elephants (it would be like March Of The Penguins...but with elephants!). Cameraman 2 gets the raw end of the deal, discovering in an odd subplot his love of film editing, while, behind the scenes Cameraman 1 and Noah develop camera-shy crushes at shutter speed.
At the sharp, impaling tip of the tripod sits the ratings-centric producer, played with excellent cold-hearted-bitchiness by Jehan O. Young. Her job is simple: get real human tears in the can to spoon-feed to the ravenous TV audience. The producer is a particularly intriguing character because she alone truly implicates the audience in the family's suffering. We cannot deny our own complicity in the plot; try as we might to escape her tangled web of cable wires and captivating mega pixels. Why do we watch reality TV? Well, maybe for the same reason we go the theatre—to find something we can relate to. Not everyone knows what it's like to have substance abuse in the family, but, as the producer concisely states, everyone knows agony.
Shoshan delivers a beautiful script, which manages to be both fabulously imaginative and at the same time completely believable. The family feels like people I could know (maybe even should know?)—they are the difference between "real" and real. This is not the story of seven strangers picked to live in a house together, or picked to chill at Laguna Beach for the summer. It is simply the story of what happens when an average, American home is flooded with spotlights, and all the walls are coming down.