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The Ugly One

Rx

Kate Fodor's enormously entertaining new play centers on a woman who enrolls in a clinical trial to treat workplace depression.

By New York City
Stephen Kunken and Marin Hinkle in Rx
(© James Leynse)
Stephen Kunken and Marin Hinkle in Rx
(© James Leynse)
Have you ever hated your job so much that you had to go somewhere private and just cry? Even if this specific situation hasn't happened to you, you may still find yourself laughing in recognition during Kate Fodor's enormously entertaining Rx, being presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. The work -- part satire and part romantic comedy -- is brought to life by a strong cast under the direction of Ethan McSweeny.

Rx centers on Meena (Marin Hinkle), the managing editor of a cattle and swine magazine, who enrolls in a clinical trial to treat workplace depression. She grows closer to Dr. Phil Grey (Stephen Kunken), the researcher in charge of the trial, particularly after he purchases a book of poems that she wrote years ago, and finds himself inexorably drawn to them -- and to her.

Hinkle strikes just the right note of pathetic desperation in Meena's determination to become -- and stay -- part of this drug trial. She never overdoes her character's crying jags, somehow managing to make them both funny and heartfelt. She also handles nicely her character's transformation into a more upbeat personality once the medication seems to have its desired effect.

Kunken has a wry, understated manner of speaking that serves him well. But he also provides an enormous depth of emotion that roils just under the surface and makes Phil a character the audience wants to succeed.

Marylouise Burke does an outstanding job as Frances, an elderly widow who befriends Meena. Elizabeth Rich impresses in the role of Allison, Phil's aggressively chipper boss. Paul Niebanck is effective in two rather different roles -- a hotshot marketing executive and a well-meaning, but bumbling scientist, and Michael Bakkensen rounds out the cast as Meena's boss, Simon, who is somewhat shallowly developed.

Fodor manages to get in some rather sly digs at the profit-conscious pharmaceutical industry while still keeping the majority of the comedy character-based. She is adept at constructing humorous lines that also contain a hint of sadness, such as Frances' observation, "I was terribly lonely after I fell in love and got married," which describes how the character missed the camaraderie of her fellow employees once she stopped working.

Set designer Lee Savage has fun with the visualization of certain scenes -- particularly the locale where Meena and Frances first meet. Lindsay Jones' original music/sound design is also particularly spot-on whenever the change to this particular environment occurs.

However, the choice to have Hinke pre-record a voice-over for a late-in-play scene proves jarringly out of place, and McSweeny should probably have just had the actress shout out the lines from offstage. Still, that's a rather minor complaint for a production that is otherwise very well executed.


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