Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
January 21, 2007
Kathryn Walat's exuberant new comedy, Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen, is the biggest and best surprise of the season so far. Forged from the same underdog pedigree as both Freaks and Geeks and Rocky, Victoria Martin puts the nerds next to the popular kids as they join forces to prove their worth to the world. Deftly directed by Loretta Greco, and performed by a superb young cast, Victoria Martin leaves audiences both laughing and cheering.
The Longwood High School math team has lost their star player, the much-revered Sanjay Patel, and needs a replacement fast. Enter Victoria Martin, a super popular blonde bombshell who dates the school basketball star, and is best friends with two high profile cheerleaders, Jen and Jen. She's too cool for the math team, but agrees to join under threat of detention. You see, Vickie (as she calls herself) is a math wiz, having developed a love of numbers under the tutelage of her absent father (her parents are getting divorced). But, having worked hard to secure her "place in the high school universe," Vickie keeps her talent and her roster spot on the math team a secret from the popular crowd.
Her teammates are a garden variety of dorks with secrets of their own. Peter, the senior team leader, knows this is his last chance to win the elusive championship he covets. Jimmy is a lowly frosh with a not-so-subtle crush on sophomore Vickie. Franklin is a neurotic junior sweating bullets over his verbal SAT score. Meanwhile, Franklin's best friend Max has a hidden crush on him. Carrying their personal baggage from one meet to the next, these anxiety-ridden mathletes embark on a hilarious journey to win the state title.
Victoria Martin is packed with good-natured humor that Walat uses to establish character. Reading her fortune from a fortune cookie, Vickie notices that her "lucky numbers are all prime, so that's cool." Later, she gripes that she's been spending so much time around other math geeks that "I'm starting to understand Klingon." Walat mines the play's characters and situations for all the laughs they're worth, and then some.
She also nails the desperate yearnings of adolescence perfectly. Our heroine's outright contempt for her workaholic mom (who is never home) and her idolatry of her dad (who increasingly forgets to call on his appointed nights) testifies to her desire to have a stabile home life. It's not surprising that she embraces the skin-deep class culture of high school for positive affirmation. In her evocation of the characters striving for some semblance of normality, connection, and acceptance, Walat surprises the audience with many sweet and touching moments.
Greco keeps the action moving swiftly, and adeptly builds anticipation as Victoria Martin's numerous subplots converge and the math team makes their inevitable appearance at the finals. She also does her part to establish character by sprinkling the production with telling little details, like the way we can tell that one of the mathletes wants Vickie to start noticing him (he stops wearing his glasses). Or the way a flip of Vickie's perfectly groomed ponytail can mean any number of things.
Bringing these endearing outcasts to life is a boisterous and talented cast headed by Jessi Campbell in the title role. She brings an impressive balance of authority, fragility, and teen insouciance to the part. Zachary Booth is just as good as Peter, hinting at the leading man lurking underneath the geek clothing. Tobias Segal and Matthew Stadelmann make a perfectly high-strung team as Max and Franklin. And, Adam Farabee makes the scene-stealing most of the over-eager Jimmy. All five actors work very well together, and look like they're having a blast on stage.
Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen is one of the best times I've had in the theatre so far this season, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. For everyone involved this production is a total victory, and I encourage theatergoers to go reap its many rewards.