|L-R: Regan Sims, Andy Do, Jessica Darrow, Ben Lorenz, and Clea DeCrane in BITTER GREENS. Photo by Brendan Swift.|
I shouid not be surprised to learn that it was Rainer Maria Rilke’s work that inspired (or at least influenced) Clea DeCrane in her writing of Bitter Greens, a well-crafted but less than earth-shattering play about five self-absorbed but fundamentally insecure millennials currently enjoying its world premiere at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan. In “Notes” to the script of Bitter Greens, Ms DeCrane quotes from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet as follows:
“That is why us young people, who are beginners in everything, must, with our whole being, with all our forces, gather around our anxious, upward-beating hearts, and learn to love. For we are so often and so disastrously wrong when we fling ourselves at each other when love takes hold of us, we scatter ourselves, just as we are, in all our messiness, disorder, bewilderment... and what can happen there?
What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that we call our communion and that we would like to call our happiness, if that were possible, and our future?"
And, as if to underscore Rilke’s influence, the lead character in Bitter Greens, a 22 year old brilliantly successful overachiever, is named Reyna – played in this production by Ms DeCrane herself. Three of the other four characters in the play – Caitlin (Jessica Darrow), Andrew (Andy Do), and Lily (Regan Sims) – are also 21 or 22 years old; all were classmates and friends as undergraduates at Berkeley; and, to a greater or lesser degree, all but Caitlin have bought into some sort of stereotypical Californian millennial foolishness: veganism, ultra-environmentalism, naturopathic medicine, etc.
Andrew, Reyna’s Japanese-American boyfriend, is cute and very much in love with her, but he is relatively ineffectual and indecisive (he has difficulty even deciding whether to stay in or eat out) and he certainly constitutes no threat to her. Caitlin, one of Reyna’s closest friends from college, is a talented artist but can’t quite believe it herself. And Lily, another of Reyna’s college friends, is involved with her partner, Indigo, in building a company that manufactures herb-infused tonics; she is excited over their success in acquiring the funding they need for their enterprise while glossing over the fact that most of it actually came from mommy and daddy.
Reyna and Andrew have just returned from Tokyo and she is eagerly awaiting word that she has landed the dream job she applied for at Green Communications (the most competitive post-grad program in the country). There’s not much doubt that she’ll get it: after all, she did intern for Green Comm all through college (even winning the company’s Initiative/Leadership award), and she did double major in college, and she did graduate magna cum laude. And, over the course of her entire life, she never did fail to get whatever it was that she set her sights on.
Never, that is, until now.
When Reyna learns that she didn’t get the job – and, what is worse, that Andrew got it instead – she simply goes off the rails. It is a situation with which she cannot cope rationally because she never really learned how to deal with failure. (It is analogous to the picture Andrew painted for her of older Japanese children who, when they tripped, invariably fell on their faces because their overprotective parents consistently prevented them from falling as young children, with the result that they never learned to put their hands out in front of them to protect their faces.) And so it is that Reyna’s relationship to Andrew takes a macabre turn in connection with her millennial obsession with vitamin supplements and super-foods.
And it is then that it all goes from bad to worse when Jack (Ben Lorenz) shows up.
Jack is the fifth member of the cast, not quite a millennial himself, but almost. He’s 28 years old and relatively sexy but pretty much something of a grubby loser, nonetheless. He dropped out of Stanford six years ago and is now working at Trader Joe’s while still harboring fantasies of returning to college some day. When he delivers an order of stuffed peppers to Kayla in her presently vulnerable state, the immediate consequences are relatively foreseeable. The ripple effect on the other members of Kayla’s millennial crowd are, however, less anticipated.
The press release for Bitter Greens describes the play as “an explosive look at the deep roots of jealousy and privilege, and how relationships can deteriorate when the foundation in which they were born completely changes”. And the entire cast of Bitter Greens does do a superb job of bringing Clea DeCrane’s play to life and expressing just what it means to be a millennial in today’s world. Yet, when all is said and done, I doubt if the play’s “explosive” insights would matter all that much to anyone who’s not a millennial herself.