By MIRA REINBERG
As spectators of television or theater we are lured by the sheer possibilities of delectation that are accessible to the very rich, even as we scoff at the disproportionate luxury surrounding them and ridicule their lifestyle of pampered oblivion.
Molly Smith Metzler’s “class war” play, Elemeno Pea, inserts us into the emblematic heart of modern aspirations – an estate on Martha’s Vineyard, where the relations between the rich trophy wife, Michaela (Laurine Price), and her personal assistant Simone (Grace Gealey) reflect the disparity between the economic classes, but also reveal the cracks in the lives of those who expect their privilege to grant them ultimate security.
Simone, on whom Michaela has grown to rely entirely, invites her sister Devon (Sun Mee Chomet) to share in the splendor of the mansion for a weekend. Growing up in Buffalo, the sisters are educated but tired of knocking on employers’ doors only to receive paltry salaries . Or at least Simone is. Her sister’s role is to place a mirror that would reflect the fantasies we and Simone engage in when we tell ourselves that we partake in the riches of the top one percent, when all the while our complacency ascertains and fixates the boundaries between the classes.
This mirror is verbal: most of the dialogues are sharply hilarious retorts between the characters. Everyone is right because everyone acts in self-delusion and so all criticism is well-targeted. Neither the exuberantly rich wife nor the Yale-educated assistant makes decisions from true control and awareness of her capabilities and options.
It is here that the comedic genre of the play blurs into an attempt to convey the deeper psychological motives underlying the characters’ behavior. But even as the script relinquishes some of its biting edge, the characters retain their caricaturized quality and their circumstances become less believable. We are less in the realm of a class-based social critique and more in the reality of revelations about personal impulses and the consequences of our actions.
In a script that does not provide a perfectly smooth logic to the development, it would be left to the production to induce a credible transformation and subtly lay foundation to the new registers of behavior. It is our good fortune that under the direction of Mark Valdez, the cast delivers a poignant and provocative performance, depicting the effect of new realizations. And then, some characters will make new decisions that are, yet again, based on illusion and sad misjudgment; others will face the truth and ready themselves to pay the price that self-knowledge levies on us. This discrete transformation is crystallized in Laurine Price’s portrayal of Michaela. Price performs the grotesque extremes of her character with a sensitivity that humanizes her errors and helps us appreciate the dilemmas that cut across all man-made categories.
Elemeno Pea, by Molly Smith Metzler. Directed by Mark Valdez. Scenic designer Richard Borgen. At Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S 4th St, Minneapolis, February 22–March 17, 2013. Tickets at 612-338-6131 or http://www.mixedblood.com/boxoffice