nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
June 23, 2009
In just a few short years from now, the world will have rebounded from the current global recession. After the crippling sub-prime mortgage collapse and the credit crisis, a pioneering boutique investment bank will debut a lucrative new venture: a bond fund secured by smart teenagers. Shrewd investors will be able to invest in the futures of gifted students who have great earning potential. Such is the conceit behind the bold, ingenious play Monetizing Emma, premiering at the Planet Connections' inaugural Festivity.
As the bank secures the best and brightest teens in preparation for their launch we meet Emma, an exceptionally gifted but introverted 15-year-old. Two ambitious investment bankers vie to represent Emma, but she is reluctant to become the poster child for the new fund. She would rather withdraw to her online fantasy world and communicate with her avatar friends.
Playwright Felipe Ossa has taken a fascinating premise and executed it brilliantly. In the vein of Alexander Payne's film Election and Wes Anderson's Rushmore, the script is an acerbic take on the miseries of adolescence, dirty office politics, and the unrelenting American drive to get ahead at all costs.
The presentation would be hilarious if it weren't so disturbing. Setting the play in the very near future conjures up yet another fear: that we don't readily learn from our past mistakes.
Director Leah Bonvissuto directs a tight, coherent production with minimalist staging and props. She captures the mood of Ossa's satirical script with great success. Everyone is on the same page creating a futuristic world too similar to our current one. With just a couple of chairs, a versatile desk, and a lamp, the cast of six actors convey the story. At a modest 95-minute length, the play breezes by.
The cast impresses across the board. Tovah Rose is perfectly nasty as Emma's privileged schoolmate bully; Daniella Rabbani is simply hilarious as her dim-witted sidekick. James Arden and Janice Mann deftly drive the plot as the investment bankers that manipulate Emma. They epitomize the blind arrogance and greed that helped trigger our current recession. Dawn Jamieson is also quite good as Emma's misguided mother, well-meaning only to a point; she is definitely more clueless than compassionate.
Nitya Vidyasagar was born to play Emma. She is all parts disillusioned and disengaged; a gifted teenager jaded well beyond her years. She secretly yearns to make a real connection with someone, constantly being failed by the adults around her. What is so moving is Vidyasagar's honesty and intelligence in portraying Emma. She anchors the production beautifully.
Jasmine Vogue Pai's simple set and Lauren Parrish's lighting scene ably suggest the office and school settings for the play on a bare stage. The costumes designed by Mira Veikley are, consistent with everything else in the production, exceptional.
Praise is well deserved for all involved with Monetizing Emma and to Planet Connections for introducing it in their festival.