"You're the right kind of average," Mary-Kate Olsen (Christine Lee) tells Grace (Katherine Folk-Sullivan), the protagonist of Mallery Avidon's new play, Mary-Kate Olsen Is in Love, now receiving its world premiere at the Flea Theater. "You and everyone just like you: 27-year-old, college-educated women, with high-paid and unfulfilling careers in deeply dysfunctional, unsatisfying, loveless marriages, who want to fill the holes in their lives by shopping!" Rarely does a moment go by in the United States of America in which someone is not trying to sell you something, often preying upon your emotional vulnerabilities and feelings of inadequacy in an effort to close the deal. We know this already, even those of us in deep denial. Avidon goes beyond the too-easy temptation to blame our unhappiness on the capitalist machine, however, and dives into a thought-provoking examination of the tyranny of expectations. This is a despotism that is all too often self-imposed.
Grace is a professional woman in her late twenties married to Tyler (Alex Grubbs), an unemployed schlub who spends most of his time smoking pot and playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. While Tyler spends all night planted in front of his X-Box, Grace retreats to her part of the house to watch trash TV until the Olsen Twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley (Kana Hatakeyama) invade her brain. Finishing each other's sentences like the eels in The Little Mermaid, MK and Ash rattle off a laundry list of things missing from Grace's life: "an iPhone, Pilates and South Beach, Furniture not purchased at IKEA..."
Hatakeyama and Lee are ridiculously funny as the world's richest and most famous child-actor-turned-fashion-maven twins, delivering every line with a vocal fry and upward inflection. Costume designer Ásta Bennie Hostetter has outfitted the pair in their typical bag-lady fashion compete with chunky sunglasses, oversized handbags, and Trenta iced coffees. Hatakeyama and Lee capture the quintessence of Olsenness, a blasé aura that demands one appear flawless without actually seeming to give a crap.
This is all part and parcel of your standard marketing shame-spiral until something unexpected happens: Mary-Kate confesses her love for Grace and the two women run away to a beach in New Zealand to live out the rest of their days. But will Grace really live happily ever after with Mary-Kate? Does money equal happiness? Is she even a lesbian?!?!
Meanwhile, Tyler has his own possibly imaginary demon, in the form of a camouflaged soldier (Alex Mandell) who appears out of nowhere to tell him what a failure he is. "Your wife is gonna leave you," he shouts like a drill sergeant, voicing the obvious. Jobless, perpetually stoned, and stuffing yourself with carbs: Is this where anyone imagines himself at 28?
A chorus of Amazing Girls (Crystal Arnette, Rachel Lin, Elizabeth May, Vicki Rodriguez, and Bonnie White, all amazing) answers this question with a resounding NO. These high-school-age women break up the scenes with peppy monologues about their goals and aspirations: "Write a novel...Get into college...Read Ulysses and understand it." As the play progresses, these endlessly energetic and optimistic teens begin to succumb to disappointment brought on by failure. "I didn't get into Yale. I cried so much I threw up," shares a petrified-looking Amazing Girl. Meanwhile, the other characters get high and watch TV, having long since given up such lofty ambitions.
Habitual dissatisfaction seems ingrained in the American dream. If you want for nothing, how can you ever strive for a better future? Yet Mary-Kate Olsen Is in Love raises the terrifying possibility that the onslaught of successive marketing campaigns and a blind faith in the inevitability of upward mobility have created unrealistic expectations for a generation of Americans, hopes that are bound to crash and burn in a conflagration of disappointment. Shouldn't it be OK to say, "Good enough?" Such clear-cut goals are and expectations are awfully stifling.
Augmenting the oppression, Scott Tedmon-Jones has created a prison on stage, complete with barbed wires and cheap fencing, suggesting that this dying marriage is really the source of Grace's frustration. If only she could free herself from its quotidian churn, she could find happiness. But Avidon doesn't make it that easy.
Her razor-sharp words fly at you with a feverish pace thanks to the economical and energetic direction of Kristan Seemel. This barrage of millennial insecurities can be quite overwhelming, increasing in intensity with each passing scene. As the cages disappear, Grace is still trapped by her own tyrannical expectations. No one is safe from crushing disappointment, including those well-heeled twins.
Don't expect any answers from this trippy, hilarious, and devastating play that ends on an inconclusive note: In an angst-ridden final monologue from Grace, who asks with a quivering lip, "How do you know what to want?" She's collapsing under the weight of a world she cannot make work for her and I just want to give her a hug and tell her that it will be all right if she can learn to love the one she's with.