The show unfolds inside the May Institute (rendered in amusing sterile glory by scenic designer Jennifer Moeller) where managing director Dr. Lisa Zauerblick (played stridently by Erika Rolfsrud) is desperately seeking the funding she needs to continue the organization's research into such things as "the function of human tears." Specifically, she, working with obsessed scientist Simi (the under-utilized, but solid, Amber Gray), hopes to identify why one person's tears can cause others to experience emotions.
Both Zauerblick's work and Simi's experiments, as well as life for office manager Marla (Annie Golden) and Susan (Irena Sofia Lucio), an aspiring poet who's been hired as a temp, are disrupted, however, by the appearance of Provocatrix (Alexandra Henrikson).
As her name implies, this character -- clad in what looks like a vintage Star Trek sleeveless blue jumpsuit (from costume designer Moria Sine Clinton) and sporting a matching blue wig and white pancake makeup -- is on hand to stir things up at the institute, both in major and minor ways.
Provocatrix's actual abilities are never concretely defined. Initially, she seems to have the ability to simply cause major crises in the office building (sprinklers going off randomly on one floor), but she eventually also represents Susan's muse, who, angry over Susan's decision to take a day job rather than concentrate on her writing, causes the young woman to act out in bizarre ways. Provocatrix also morphs into people who come to take part in experiments, and even channels Simi's ex-boyfriend, who dumped her over her workaholic ways.
There's a randomness and wryness on display (much like a bunch of Dilbert cartoons that have been taped together), which initially inspires smiles and chuckles. But after a while, as the show pulls theatergoers in increasingly divergent ways and proves wearying.
For example, Marla's cell phone chats with her homebound elderly mom are sweet and funny, but when they take a turn toward the tragic, it's a little unclear to what end. Similarly, a heated monologue from Provocatrix about how people an abuse those who are less fortunate comes from nowhere.
Henrikson displays an unwavering commitment to this speech, and throughout proves equally unswerving from bringing wicked impishness to the stage. Similarly, Lucio's work as Susan, whom theatergoers may sense is based on one if not more of the authors, brings an earnest zaniness to her performance that proves endearing. And Golden's turn as the somewhat embittered and brittle Marla, who's been at the institute for some 20 years, carries a subtle, yet palpable, undercurrent of sadness and resignation.
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