Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Webster's Bitch - Playhouse on Park

Webster’s Bitch, receiving its world premiere at Playhouse on Park, presents two, slightly overlapping workplace matters.  First, is the serious issue of gender and pay inequity.  Second, and the more interesting and of-the-moment plot line, is the consequences of an unintended gaffe as it ricochets across social media platforms.  While equity concerns are very important,  Playwright Jacqueline Bircher should consider honing in on the latter subject area and reevaluating the necessity of the former to craft a tighter, more thought-provoking show.  Viral takedowns of politicians, college administrators and business leaders are becoming commonplace but, as a friend of mine likes to say, there are three sides to every story.  The subject is ripe for a broader ethical and philosophical discussion.  Webster’s Bitch gives us a glimpse, but could give audiences so much more.


The production opens in the offices of the Webster dictionary.  Gwen (Mia Wurgaft) and co-worker Nick (HanJie Chow) are busily preparing an update for the online version of the book.  Waiting very impatiently, we soon learn, is Gwen’s sister Ellie (Isabel Monk Cade).  Before she heads off for a year stint in Nepal, she wants to celebrate with Gwen.  Before the partying can commence, Ellie receives a notification on one of her social media accounts about an off-color remark by Frank (Peter Simon Hilton), Editor-in-Chief of the publication.  Speaking at an academic conference, he is unknowingly recorded uttering an obscenity about Joyce (Veanne Cox), his subordinate and the supervisor of Gwen and Nick.  Unfortunately, the clip, spreading like wildfire, won’t go away and cannot be ignored.


This scenario sets up a drama that, as previously stated, focuses on issues of pay inequity and gender politics, but also obscenity in the digital age and their moral and ethical implications. 


The five-person cast is a mixed bag.  Veanne Cox, a veteran Broadway performer making her debut at Playhouse, deftly imbues her character, Joyce, with a repressed rage and simmering resentment.  Her outfit, pulled back hair, and clipped speech all define the woman she has become within the impaired work environment of Webster’s dictionary.  Peter Simon Hilton’s portrayal of Frank perfectly seizes upon the conflicting emotions and actions of an individual caught in the crosshairs of a social media firestorm.  He is fittingly combative, apologetic, devious and Machiavellian as he fights for his reputation and livelihood.


Mia Wurgaft is steady and convincing as a woman seeking a career and respect in an industry she loves.  HanJie Chow infuses his character of Nick with a haughtiness that is a touch too passive.  His scenes with Gwen would have crackled with a bit more toughness.  Isabel Monk Cade’s approach to the character of Ellie needs to be rethought.  It added comedy to the production, but was just not believable. 


Director Vaness Morosco dutifully sets the stage within Johann Fitzpatrick’s cluttered, businesslike Scenic Design.  She slowly lays the groundwork for the fireworks that are about to explode. I wish, in collaboration with the playwright, she would have toned down the character of Ellie.  Her over-the-top performance, while eliciting laughs from the audience, was unreal and distracting.  Conversely, the portrayal of Nick would benefitted with a more assured, even cocky presence.  Ms. Morosco does skillfully direct the confrontation scene between Joyce and Frank at the end of the show as their mutual contempt, dislike and power struggle comes to a head.


Webster’s Bitch, playing at Playhouse on Park through June 18.  Click here for dates, times, and ticket information.

No comments: