Hypocrisy and aristocracy
In playwright Molly Smith Metzler’s Elemeno Pea, the help is busy keeping an expansive Martha’s Vineyard family compound neat, tidy and ready for whoever or whatever may drop on by. The grounds and buildings are so sprawling that when the sister of the family’s personal assistant comes to visit, she gets to stay in the family’s huge beachside guest house that she mistakes for the family’s main mansion.
It’s not exactly an East Coast modern Downton Abbey, but Elemeno Pea does explore the discrepancies of family fortunes vs. working for a living, new money vs. old, and the attitudes and expectations that come with both.
Simone (Lyndsy Kail) is the assistant and paid friend of the family billionaire’s newest trophy wife Michaela (Melinda Parrett). Simone, brought up blue collar, has taken up the snobbish attitude of the moneyed family much to the horror of her visiting down-on-her luck sister, Devon (Stephanie Altholz). Devon is a blunt-talking shit stirrer and truth seeker, ready to call out hypocrisies and bullshit at the tip of the hat, whether it be her sister’s newfound arrogance; her sister’s elitist employer; her sister’s aging playboy boyfriend, Ethan (Kurt Johnson); or the comic relief found in groundskeeper and token minority, Jos-B (Alex Robertson).
The play runs an hour and a half, no intermission, and for a good part of the story, it plays out like a sitcom, with funny, snarky dialogue, a comedic storyline and somewhat contrived characters. Though the audience is drawn to sister Devon’s sharp observations and even sharper tongue, each of the characters starts off a little unlikable and boorish, so it’s surprising to find out where the sympathies lie at the end of the play.
For the most part, the humor works, though at times some of the salty retorts feel forced and used mainly for shock value, while the characters can feel one-dimensional.
But what this production does offer up is the deft direction of David Pierini and the amusing cast, especially Altholz, whose physical humor is a match to her witty wry deliveries, especially when interplaying with the rest of the cast’s comedic timings.