NEW YORK — The American Dream is definitely battered, if not broken, according to some playwrights.
The mission of Women's Project Theater's 35th anniversary season, according to producing artistic director Julie Crosby, is to question the state of the American dream. They did so successfully with "Bethany" and "Jackie," and now comes "Collapse," playwright Allison Moore's trenchant comedy set in the beginning of the 2009 global economic collapse.
A sensitive, touching and very funny production opened Tuesday night at New York City Center Stage II. Jackson Gay directs an excellent cast, carefully balancing serious moments and exuberantly comedic scenes.
Moore has successfully integrated comedy with topical issues as her four middle-class Minnesotans grapple with their various personal problems and with one another. Their problems range from unemployment to difficulty getting pregnant, possible alcoholism, sex addiction, and post-traumatic-stress disorder stemming from the 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge into the Mississippi River during an evening rush hour.
"Things collapse" says David (Elliot Villar) succinctly and sadly, toward the end of the play. Villar is wild-eyed and hauntingly funny as emotionally damaged David, a 30-something husband suffering from recurring PTSD 18 months after his car fell off the bridge and he nearly drowned.
His high-strung attorney wife Hannah, (a moving, desperately perky portrayal by Hannah Cabell), is worried about losing her job. She's also urgently trying to get pregnant while propelling her reluctant husband into alcohol recovery and back to work. Cabell regularly interjects a false little burst of laughter when Hanna's talking, symptomatic of her character's increasing nervous stress.
Their problems are complicated by the unwanted arrival of Hannah's ne'er-do-well sister, Susan, who unexpectedly drops in from California with luggage and vague plans to stay with them indefinitely. Nadia Bowers is often hilarious as the narcissistic Susan, whose shifty means of procuring a free plane ride to Minneapolis will soon spell trouble for her sister and brother-in-law. Bowers spouts Susan's kooky, New Age-y convictions with ditzy aplomb, as when Susan justifies her invasion of her sister's home by calmly stating, "I'm opening myself up to the universal flow."
When Hannah meets up with a smooth-talking sex addiction counselor (a sly, polished performance by Maurice McRae) the farce level is ramped up considerably. The impressive skeletal bridge infrastructure that overhangs the stage finally sees some action, as Lee Savage's clever scenery design is utilized in a pivotal moment for David and Hannah.
Moore's characters come alive as real people despite the absurdist situations and coincidences that bring the plot threads to a mindful conclusion. "Collapse" is a fine examination of the many ways that economic disaster can impact real people just trying to live their lives.