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Hard Feelings

Reviewed by Michael Lazan

Presented by Women's Project and Productions at Women's Project Theatre, 424 W. 55 St., NYC, Oct. 11-Nov 4.

Neena Beber's new play, an unusual amalgam of whimsy and realism, contains some vivid passages, some ruminative intelligence, and chunks of original comedy here and there, but, ultimately, is too diffuse and misshapen to gainfully involve the audience.

The piece focuses on the seriously nebbishy Selma Rogers, electrolysist, mother, and would-be writer, who has just experienced a break-up with her very confident girlfriend. The play focuses on Selma's efforts toward a more assertive identity as she grapples with her ex-lover, an imperious writing teacher, and a particularly self-absorbed client. All the while, she struggles to live with her rather demented grandmother, and to connect with her child, who resides with her unseen mother.

Beber, a talented young writer who has received quite a bit of attention as of late, isn't quite focused enough to make this piece work. Through a series of short scenes, she raises sundry complex issues with undeniable flair, but without any real cunning or depth. Compounding this, she intermittently forces a series of comic fantasy sequences a la Chris Durang, although the better work invariably involves sober-minded reflection.

Maria Mileaf's cast pushes the dialogue and probably could be a bit more over-the-top, given the zaniness of some of the material. Nevertheless, Seana Kofoed is sweetly sympathetic as Selma, Guy Boyd is delightfully boorish as the writing teacher (Dr. Disposio), and Kate Jennings Grant is a notable presence as the ex-lover (oddly named Finola Cornflakes). They act from within Neil Patel's striking and colorful setting, and are helped by Katherine Roth's sharp and funny costumes, including a series of unusual animal costumes and a pair of fuzzy bunny slippers that are probably the most memorable thing about the production.

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