Tiffany Villarin in Do You Feel Anger? Photo by Bill Brymer.
Do You Feel Anger?
By Mara Nelson-Greenberg
Directed by Margot Bordelon
Review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
Tori Amos’ “Raspberry Swirl” pumps throughout the theater as I enter it, and I cannot help but feel as though I have been transported into some sort of concert. I almost instantly settle into the energy as I recognize several artists I like in the preshow music. A theme arises: These artists are all women. These artists are all women whose careers and specifically selected songs are about female empowerment. I take this knowledge in, and enjoy the music. I think I know what kind of show I’m about to see.
At first, I find that I was mostly right. Sofia (Tiffany Villarin) is an empathy coach who has been brought on to coax some humanity into the employees of a debt collection agency. Pretty much every office archetype you can think of is present. There’s the clueless and lecherous boss Jon (Dennis William Grimes) who assures Sofia that his employees are so emotionally attuned that she’ll be finished with her assignment in record time. There’s a dynamic duo of dunces in Jordan and Howie (Bjorn DuPaty and Amir Wachterman respectively) who are absurdly unaware of the nature of their inappropriate behavior. And there’s also Eva (Megan Hill) who is the only woman in the office, the only one who seems to be serious about the empathy classes and in desperate need of being saved from a toxic work environment.
Roughly half of this play is an absolute riot. Jokes fly with Tina Fey-esque sophistication, rapidity, and intensity. There is no question that Nelson-Greenberg knew exactly what problems she wished to address and the absurd levels to which she was willing to go to do it. The performances are all nearly pitch-perfect with the only detraction being that some jokes received such an uproarious reaction that the next one was lost. This is something that will most certainly be corrected with more time with live audiences.
The scenes are bookended by lights and sound reminiscent of the pre-show music – really cool scene, lighting and sound design by Arnulfo Maldonado, Isabella Byrd and M.L. Dogg respectively – and unanswered voicemails played live by Sofia’s Mother (Lisa Tejero). At first, these interstitial moments, while well-executed, seem distracting and wholly unnecessary to the plot – as was the character of Old Man (nonetheless played sublimely by local talent Jon Huffman). As the play progresses, however, we learn how the mother’s voicemails reveal some significant insights into Sofia’s character.
It’s around this time that the tone of the play begins to change. If the first half is farcical, the second is decidedly satirical. The humor is still there, but it becomes more biting. What was once funny quickly becomes stinging. One of the play’s strengths lies in its sense of dramatic irony, so it would be a disservice to remove any potential audience members of the unexpected. I will say, however, that the scene resulting in the play’s climax comes as a devastating blow to anyone who feels part of a world with a #metoo movement or is desperately seeking tools to connect with people they feel don’t understand their feelings and worldview, people who don’t even want to.
By the end of the show, I found that I was a little disappointed – not with any of the performances, production value or even writing, as all of that was at a level befitting the Festival’s history. I wanted to have answers. I was angry with what happened to the characters I had fallen in love with. I was as powerless to help them as they were to help themselves. I think that was precisely the point, but it didn’t make the play an easy watch by the end. I’ll put it another way by borrowing the play’s title and one of Sofia’s empathy exercises:
“Do you feel anger?”
“Yes, I feel anger because…”
The plot of this play – the very real problems in our society that it depicts – fill in the blank. As satisfied as I was by how astutely this play pointed its finger at our cultural ills, some lingering questions remained: What now? More importantly, what do we do about it?
Do You Feel Anger?
March 9 – April 8, 2018
Part of the 42nd Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.