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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

EVERYTHING IS SUPER GREAT by Stephen Brown Debuts at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Xavier Rooney, Lisa Jill Anderson, Will Sarratt, and Marcia Debonis in EVERYTHING IS SUPER GREAT.  Photo by Hunter Canning.

Dysfunctional families, abandonment, disappearances, dementia, failures to communicate, inter-generational conflict – these are among the most basic themes traditionally addressed on stage.  Seldom, however, are they explored as deftly and in such light-hearted fashion as they are by Stephen Brown in Everything Is Super Great, his first full length play to be staged in New York.  And it is why this play, produced by New Light Theater Company and Stable Cable Lab Co. and directed by Sarah Norris at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan, engenders so many more laughs than tears from the audience.

Tommy (Will Sarratt) is an awkward 19-year old whose father abandoned his family years ago and whose older brother has been missing for months.  He is highly accomplished when it comes to computers but much less so when it comes to relating to others in real life – and he has serious anger management problems.  Having been fired from his job at Applebee’s for setting fire to the restaurant after getting into a row with a customer, he is currently.employed in an entry-level job as a barista at Starbucks and is living at home with his very well-meaning but smothering mother, Anne (Marcia Debonis).

Moreover, losing his job at Applebee’s was the least of Tommy’s problems: as a result of his setting the fire, he was charged with arson, a felony.  His mother did succeed in getting the charge reduced to a misdemeanor, but only on the condition that Tommy undergo therapy to learn how to deal with his anger management problems.  (Which really is a bit ironic since Anne apparently has anger management problems herself, subsequently getting into a fight with a customer at Walmart which gets her fired from her job there too.)

Anyway, Tommy is more than willing to undergo therapy - if he can do it through a course over the internet – but his mother has other ideas.  She insists that he enter into therapy with Dave (Xavier Rooney), a one-time co-worker of hers at Walmart who is now a wannabe therapist who believes that his MFA degree will enable him to treat Tommy effectively through art therapy.  But Dave, as it turns out, has abandonment and anger management problems of his own.  His girlfriend, Rachel, has walked out on him, taking all her stuff (and some of his), leaving no forwarding address and no explanation.

And just to add to the play’s overarching themes of dysfunctionality, disappearances, and abandonment, it turns out that Tommy’s immediate supervisor at Starbucks is Alice (Lisa Jill Anderson), an attractive 21-year old pot-smoking former schoolmate of Tommy’s (although she doesn’t remember him at all) who lives with her grandmother and is her sole care-giver.  And, wouldn’t you know it, grandma suffers from dementia, wanders off one day, and disappears as well.

So there you have it: Anne’s husband and Tommy’s father is gone, Anne’s oldest son and Tommy’s brother is gone, Dave’s girlfriend is gone, Alice’s grandmother is gone, and all that remains is for this dysfunctional group to sort it all out as best they can in the most cheerful, comedic manner one might imagine.

And they prove to be fully up to the task.  Will Sarrratt (who reminded me a lot of Thomas Middledith, the star of TV’s Silicon Valley) is terrific as the quirky, socially awkward and generally dysfunctional Tommy who is nonetheless quite intelligent and compassionate.  Lisa Jill Anderson succeeds in conveying a full  range of emotions as Alice, a young woman unfairly burdened with the responsibility of caring for her high maintenance grandmother.  Xavier Rooney is truly delightful as Dave, a lost soul who really isn’t sure who or what he wants out of life but is certainly going to give it his best shot.  And last, but certainly not least, is Marcia Debonis, whose exuberance, effervescence and just plain well-meaning (if often misplaced) goodness as Anne suffuse the entire production.

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