'Elemeno Pea'

Molly Smith Metzler makes a minor contribution to American class warfare with "Elemeno Pea."

Molly Smith Metzler makes a minor contribution to American class warfare with “Elemeno Pea.” In a profanity-laden variation on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” she has a trio of proles suffer under the chaotic lifestyles of the rich and feckless, then strains after an eleventh hour stab at poignancy. There’s enough twitting of the dopey wealthy to satisfy any number of the 99%, though of course it’s mostly the 1% who attend the theater. For either demographic, energetic, erratic comedy of bad manners never quite jells.

Metzler’s Rhoda and Mary are sisters from Buffalo at either end of the economic spectrum. Poor job and romantic choices have left cynical, wisecracking Devon (Cassie Beck) killing time in the family home’s basement. It’s good girl Simone (Melanie Lora) who’s hit pay dirt as personal assistant to Metzler’s Phyllis Lindstrom surrogate: Michaela (Katrina Link), trophy second wife of an ad agency bigshot.

Designer Ralph Funicello screams “money” with a sumptuous sitting room looking out on a private Martha’s Vineyard beach. That’s the water out of which fish Devion emerges to observe, stupefied, Simone’s passivity in the face of diva Michaela’s extravagances and iron whims. As if more sideline commentary were needed, Metzler trots in the family’s grumbling Latino handyman (Jonathan Nichols) – think Schroeder from “One Day at a Time” – for additional working class perspective.

Simone is defensive while caustic Devon has everyone’s number. Darting between them is Michaela, driven increasingly manic by her husband’s divorce noises. (He has already previously abandoned the lady on a parkway.) The offstage tycoon is amply represented by twitty best friend Ethan (Jamison Jones), a upper-class idler who indulges in obnoxious abbreviations – “sitch” for situation; “deets” for details – while pursuing Simone’s heart.

Metzler comically exaggerates the moneyed class’s narcissism, which she seems to see as justifying an utter lack of civility or loyalty on the part of the hired help. Above-it-all Devon is alone in coming off well; she’s assigned the best quips and the most truth-telling, and is the only one to see Michaela as a lost soul and sister-under-the-skin. With the deck so stacked in her favor, Beck is to be commended for keeping Devon flawed and interesting throughout.

Lenk, too, finds depth in her part, though the last-minute melodramatic revelations are borderline offensive in this farcical construct. And for the thing to work at all, you have to buy Simone’s complete blindness to what an idiot Ethan is. Helmer Marc Masterson keeps the hit-or-miss material moving along as if around three cameras, seeing to it the players hit their marks and blast the dialogue out to the back row.

Elemeno Pea

South Coast Rep, Costa Mesa; 507 seats; $68 top

Production

A South Coast Repertory presentation of a play in one act by Molly Smith Metzler. Directed by Marc Masterson.

Creative

Sets, Ralph Funicello; costumes, David Kay Mickelson; lighting, Lap Chi Chu; sound, Cricket S. Myers. Opened, reviewed Feb. 4, 2012. Runs through Feb. 26. Running time: 100 MIN.

Cast

Simone - Melanie Lora
Devon - Cassie Beck
Jos-B - Jonathan Nichols
Michaela - Katrina Lenk
Ethan - Jamison Jones

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