Cry of the Yuppie
The '80s were a scary, scary decade, so Eastern Standard should be a scary, scary play. And while it is a frightening romp through the halcyon moments of the Me Generation—from criminal insider trading to AIDS to the collapse of the social-support net (and did we mention the ABBA song?)—with a tight little huddle of yuppies so self-centered as to verge on self-parody, it's not nearly as scary as it should be.
This early Richard Greenberg play seems as if it has all the makings of a deliciously vicious satire, but Orange Coast College's production plays it too straight. Sure, it's heartfelt, tender, even moving at times, but there's a certain uncomfortable feeling permeating the production: everyone knows their lines, but they're not sure what they're trying to say.
Standard is put together like a Canterbury Tales of the Upper West Side, with a huddle of 1980s archetypes—yon Nebbish, yon Artiste, yon Capitalist Running Dog, yon Network Executive, yon Street Crazy and yon Cyndi Lauper—on a shambling pilgrimage to self-discovery and growth via a summer house in Long Island. Longtime friends Stephen and Drew (Mark Hunt and James Grant) collide with brother and sister Peter and Phoebe (a mesmerizing Chris Fowler and Malia Fee) at some rococo Perrier dispensary after an altercation with homeless Reaganomics casualty May Logan (a sweet Anne Gray with a bitter mean streak). In best '80s-sitcom fashion, they all wind up spending the summer at Stephen's beach cottage, where many wacky and soul-searching hijinks ensue. Oh, and they bring the Perrier waitress (Daunielle Hauser, doing a fine Ms. Lauper) along, too.
It's all glibly cynical (or is that cynically glib?) bon mots and awkward revelations, as was de rigueur during the Me Generation, but soon, these yuppies (who can't stop thinking about IBM and Nynex even when they're cuddling) are striving for something more. What exactly they're not sure—is there life beyond stock options?
We can't help but end up just as confused. Is this simply a play about the secret inner life of yuppies, about the struggle to be more than just a material girl in a material world? Or is there a deeper indictment of greed, selfishness, conformity and the rest of the underbelly of the 1980s bubbling under there somewhere? Somewhere within, we sense a wicked and sophisticated social satire yearning to break free, but this OCC ensemble, under the direction of Sean Gray and Raine Hambly, opts for a gentler delivery, bravely plowing through lines one hopes were intended as something other than heartfelt and sincere. (One particularly egregious example: "I've seen your heart—it's shiny.")
It's certainly a noble effort to imbue these characters with actual character, and the cast doesn't shy away from the task—Fowler is supremely fluid and subtle as the Person With AIDS, Gray's May flips nicely between shrill intensity and ragged depression, and Grant fires his role as cast conscience and realist with the right blend of condescension and compassion—but it still seems somehow out of tune. It'd be easy to laugh at these people. It'd be a little tougher to laugh with them. It'd be even harder to sympathize. Standard skitters among all three. But at least the outfits are still pretty scary.
Eastern Standard at Orange Coast College's Drama Lab Studio, 2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-5640. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. $5-$6.
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