Angry Young Women in Low Rise Jeans with High Class Issues
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
January 4, 2007
Angry Young Women in Low-Rise Jeans With High Class Issues, Matt Morillo's program of five short plays that strive to analyze "what makes foxy women tick," is a comedy that doesn't quite live up to its billing. Even though the author aims to write from (and about) a female perspective, it's not surprising, considering his gender, that the guys often end up center stage. That doesn't always take away from what Morillo has accomplished here—an evening of straight-up, sitcom-style comedy that boasts an outstanding cast, some fine direction, and many funny moments—but it does make one wonder why he doesn't just give the show over to them completely.
As the title suggests, there are angry young women here, but I wouldn't necessarily say that Morillo is always sympathetic to them. In each of the two plays that feature major male characters the playwright favors their point of view over the women's. This is neither a good nor a bad thing since Morillo is a talented comic writer and director (his style and sensibility are both perfect for television, should he ever decide to go that route), but it's not always the show that's advertised.
In "Unprotected Sex," one man's quest to avoid his girlfriend's volcanic mood swings turns into comic mayhem. Rachel has just started taking birth control pills so she and her boyfriend, Brian, can have sex without condoms, and her hormones are in upheaval. So Brian enlists his best friend, Joe, to help keep Rachel pacified when she comes home one night, and, of course, their plan goes awry. Their attempts to diffuse any potential conflict (offering only one-word answers to any question, not making any jokes whatsoever) will be all-too-amusingly familiar to anyone who's ever been in a long-term relationship. But, Morillo's affinity for the men makes Rachel look like a raving lunatic instead of a sympathetic figure in need of some extra moral support.
In "The Nude Scene" an actress struggles with baring her breasts for a scene in a low budget film. Morillo draws her dilemma convincingly enough, but once it comes time to shoot the scene in question he shifts focus to the director's efforts to ease her anxiety (and, to a lesser extent, his cameraman's growing frustration with the whole scenario). Again, funny stuff that is done very well, but the story ends up being more about the guys than the girls.
Morillo is less assured whenever he turns the spotlight on the women. This is most evident in Angry Young Women's two solo pieces, "My Last Thong" and "The Miseducation of Elissa," which feel more like a pep rally and a self-help seminar, respectively, than anything else. It's easy to get behind each protagonist's dilemma—the first is outraged by today's less demure fashion trends, the second elucidates the common threads running through all of her failed relationships—but they both wind up sounding more like a man's idea of a woman than real people. It's only in "Playtime in the Park" that Morillo is somewhat successful in writing genuine female characters. This charming short about a woman counseling her younger niece about the birds and the bees gets things right more often than not, as the characters discuss the Mars/Venus gulf between men and women.
One thing Morillo does know is comedy, and he directs Angry Young Women with a superb sense of timing and pace. His talented cast is equally gifted, with all of them shining in a number of roles. JessAnn Smith is endearing as the confused young niece in "Playtime in the Park," and Angelique Letizia is equally brassy as her more experienced aunt. Devon Pipars is charmingly flustered as the breast-baring ingénue of "The Nude Scene," while Martin Friedrichs hits the bullseye as her vain, self-centered co-star. The real standouts, though, are Nicholas J. Coleman, Rachel Nau, and Thomas J. Pilutik, all of whom give knockout comedic performances in both "Unprotected Sex" and "The Nude Scene." Angry Young Women is worth the price of admission just to see all of these terrific actors in action.
Whatever reservations I may have about the writing in Angry Young Women in Low-Rise Jeans With High Class Issues, I have no qualms about Morillo's direction or his splendid cast. I would love to see them all reunite on a future production, one that is perhaps a little more honest (and self-knowing) about its intentions.