Less than a landmark but more than a trifle, “Rx,” Kate Fodor’s cute comedy about workplace depression, is ideal entertainment for neurotic people living in anxious times. Scribe takes direct aim at Big Pharma and its cynical mission to medicate the whole world for the condition of being human. Gullible suckers who drink the Kool-Aid also take a hit. But the satiric barbs stop short of drawing blood from the endearing losers (sweetly played by Marin Hinkle and Stephen Kunken) who have been brainwashed into thinking they need a pill to fall in love and be happy.
Directors and designers rarely receive kudos for their sense of proportion. But it’s worth noting how comfortably this production, helmed by Ethan McSweeny (“The Best Man”), fits both the scope of the play and the stage dimensions of its 198-seat off-Broadway house. (Something to keep in mind for future productions.)
Lee Savage’s compact set makes the case. Clad in shades of grey, the Chinese-box design of a generic office interior is cleverly outfitted with camouflaged doors, drawers, cupboards, and drop-downs. Frequent scene changes are not only efficiently executed, they’re also fun to watch.
Play opens in the bland office where Meena Pierotti (Hinkle) holds down a dreary job as editor of the trade publication “Piggeries, American Cattle and Swine Magazine.” Unlike the uber-confident dame she plays in “Two and Half Men,” Hinkle’s lovely Meena is a delicate creature with a fragile ego, a pearl among piggeries, trembling on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
Whenever she feels like weeping, Meena retreats to a nearby department store and hides in the corner where they sell underwear for old ladies. (Cue drop-down clotheslines festooned with cotton bloomers.) “There’s just something comforting about all those big underpants,” she explains, “like you’re surrounded by an army of grandmas.”
A dear (and possibly dotty) old lady named Frances is no General Grandma. But in Marylouise Burke’s lovable perf, the old darling soothes Meena (and who knows how many people in the aud) by talking the universal language of common sense that all grandmas talk.
Meena finds her soulmate in Dr. Phil Gray (Kunken, as trustworthy as a boy scout), a researcher at Schmidt Pharma who is conducting a study on an experimental drug for “workplace depression.” Never heard of that one? “It isn’t a personal failing,” Phil reassures Meena, “it’s a disease — we hope.”
Phil’s super-motivated boss, Allison (in a delicious portrayal by Elizabeth Rich), is the head cheerleader for Schmidt Pharma’s campaign to sell the public on the notion that this widespread condition has been “newly identified” as a “debilitating but treatable disease.” And she gets all hot and bothered at the thought of marketing an exorbitantly expensive new designer drug to patients with a household income of at least $65,000.
Although he doesn’t seem to know it, Phil is just as depressed as Meena, which makes their romance a tender but terribly fragile affair, fraught with peril. Will Meena be accepted into Phil’s program? Will she respond to her medication? Will Phil find a drug to cure his heartbreak?
Fodor (“100 Saints You Should Know”) has a way with flawed characters, and her lovers here are so warmly drawn that we feel we have a stake in their fate. Scribe’s comic tone is well-balanced — light enough to rescue Meena and Phil from their own demons, but sharp enough to stick it to a pharmaceutical industry that makes its billions by convincing people that being human is a disease.