Off Broadway Review: ‘Engagements’

Jennifer Kim, Omar Maskati, Ana Nogueira, Michael Stahl-David, Brooke Weisman.

The Second Stage Uptown production of “Engagements” is typical of the work done by this top-drawer house. The acting is polished. The direction is smart. And the production values are excellent.  But all this well-crafted effort seems wasted on showcasing this deadly comedy by “Mr. Robot” staff writer Lucy Teitler about the childish antics of a group of shallow people with nothing better to do than knife each other in the back.    

Kimberly Senior (“Disgraced”) has done all she could to get some oomph into a play unencumbered with plot or purpose. Proper gratitude must also be shown to Wilson Chin for an inventive set that makes the evening’s ordeal less painful. Working with a forced perspective that invites the eye to look far beyond the hothouse setting, the designer shows us a bucolic vista of clear skies and verdant greenery that is hypnotically calming.

No matter where the feeble plot wanders, it always circles back to this pretty New England country club setting, a favorite venue for engagement parties. Lauren (Ana Nogueira, bristling with evil energy ) and her best friend Allison (Jennifer Kim, demure to a fault) are wearing dowdy party dresses and knocking back glasses of champagne, but sweet, stupid Allison is the only one enjoying herself at this shindig. She’s got a nerdy but dependable boyfriend named Mark (the almost invisible Michael Stahl-David) and looks forward to having an engagement party of her own.

Lauren has no trouble getting boyfriends and less trouble dropping them. She recently shed someone named Peter who now cries a lot in public, and her current boyfriend is a high school janitor. But at the same time that she’s contemptuous of the current crop of men (“He’s so mediocre,” she says of one, “it’s almost ostentatious”), she envies her girlfriends for marrying them.

Popular on Variety

In short, Lauren is having an existential crisis. “I’m bored all the time,” she frets about the narrow lives that she and her friends are living. But her only inspiration for alleviating the boredom — “Let’s have sex with strangers!” — doesn’t resonate with anyone else at this party. Except Mark.

The two of them don’t have much in common. She’s going for her Ph. D. in Victorian literature and his field is Comp Lit, which actually makes them sort of enemies.  But they do, indeed, have sex at one of the many engagement parties held over this long, boring summer. (In fact, the occasion happens to be at Mark and Allison’s own engagement party.) After this initial seduction, Mark becomes so obsessed with Lauren, he turns into a stalker, but an inept one who sends her trashy lingerie and tacky sex toys.

Two more characters show up to tell the audience what we already know, but add nothing to the wisp of a plot. Teitler clearly has a tender spot for Lauren. “It’s obvious I have a very low self-regard,” she says in a rare moment of self-reflection. But while the scribe does have a modest gift for snarky dialogue, she’s squandered it on an aimless play about deeply unlikable characters that give their generation a very bad name.

Off Broadway Review: 'Engagements'

Second Stage Uptown / McGinn/Cazale Theater. 99 seats. $25 top. Opened Aug. 4, 2016. Reviewed Aug. 3. Running time: ONE HOUR, 25 MIN.

Production: A Second Stage Theater presentation of a play in one act by Lucy Teitler originally produced at Barrington Stage Company.

Creative: Directed by Kimberly Senior. Sets, Wilson Chin; costumes, Beth Goldenberg; lighting, Jan Schriever; sound, Ryan Rumery; production stage manager, Donald Fried.

Cast: Jennifer Kim, Omar Maskati, Ana Nogueira, Michael Stahl-David, Brooke Weisman.

More Legit

  • Revenge Song

    Vampire Cowboys' 'Revenge Song': L.A. Theater Review

    There’s highbrow, there’s lowbrow, and then there’s however you might classify Vampire Cowboys, the anarchic New York City theater company whose diverse productions . It’s radical, “good taste”-flouting counter-programming for the vast swaths of the population left unserved by high-dollar, stiff-collar theater options. Vampire Cowboys’ raucous new show, “Revenge Song,” is unlike anything else that’s [...]

  • THE VISIT review

    'The Visit': Theater Review

    Director Jeremy Herrin’s extraordinary take on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play “The Visit” is less of a production and more of a show. A wordy one, to be sure, which is no surprise since it’s an adaptation by Tony Kushner that, including two intermissions, comes in at three-and-a-half hours. It’s never going to be described as [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme review

    'We Are Freestyle Love Supreme': Film Review

    For any Lin-Manuel Miranda fans whose hearts sank almost as quickly as they rose upon hearing that, yes, there’s a “Hamilton” movie, and no, it won’t be out for another 20 months, succor may be on the way in the form of a probably faster-arriving movie that features Miranda in almost as big a role, [...]

  • Unmasked review

    Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Unmasked': Theater Review

    It takes guts to admit you were wrong — especially when you have been so right, so often. Take composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose successes with  “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “School of Rock” have made him a musical-theater uber-Lord. Early on during [...]

  • Aaron Loeb

    James Ward Byrkit to Direct Aaron Loeb's Off-Broadway Adaptation 'Ideation' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Aaron Loeb’s darkly comic one-act play “Ideation” will be turned into a movie, Variety has learned. The Off-Broadway production centers on a group of corporate consultants who work together on a mysterious and ethically ambiguous project for the government. It premiered in 2016, and went on to become a New York Times Critic’s Pick during [...]

  • Leopoldstadt review

    Tom Stoppard's 'Leopoldstat': Theater Review

    “Leopoldstadt,” the most slow-burn and personal work of 82-year-old Tom Stoppard’s long stage and screen career, is an intimate epic. It springs to astonishing dramatic life in a now bare, but once glorious apartment off Vienna’s Ringstrasse in 1955. The only problem is, for all the visceral emotional intensity of that scene, it forms less [...]

  • Duncan Sheik

    Listen: Duncan Sheik Created a Monster

    The singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik burst onto the musical theater scene with his raucous rock score for “Spring Awakening,” which swept the Tonys back in 2007, and since then, he’s worked steadily on stage — but a lot of his newer projects, including the current “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” have a much quieter [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content