Lynn Rosen’s crackling comedy Washed Up on the Potomac, one of a trio of new plays from “pop-up” theater company The Pool, is a blast of wit, broad humor, and sharp observations of how artists’ struggles mirror human nature. Etched into vivid relief by a superb cast, its characters are caricatures who ring true.
Kate (a supercharged Jennifer Morris) still aspires to rock stardom as she approaches her 39th birthday still playing for “tens of tens of people” in dive bars. (“Dude, I’m post-show and I’m starving.”) Mark (a hilarious and affecting Adam Green), an aspiring graphic novelist turning 29 and besotted with Kate’s electric, over-ripe charisma, resembles a struggling-artist antihero from a Woody Allen movie. Across the office, frumpy Sherri (a dazzling Crystal Finn) – “Big bag, big coat, always hovering” – seems to want only to get by without being bothered or even noticed. Still unhealthily attached to her mother, she literally hides at the first hint of conflict or agita.
Debargo Sanyal, whose work I’ve admired in the past (most recently in Flux’s Rizing), is a memorable Giorgio, their hysterically volcanic boss at the Washington D.C. advertising agency where they work as proofreaders. Giorgio is the kind of edge-of-the-precipice organization man who tries hopelessly to whip his crew into shape by shouting “Gather, people!” and admonishing head proofreader Sherri to “visibilitate style guides for easy referenceability.”
He and the staff are in a tizzy because two shadows hang over the office. A body that has washed up on the Potomac may be that of a former employee who disappeared a year ago. Even more distressing, someone has allowed an incredibly costly typo onto an advertisement for a major client.
But the story elements are primarily vehicles for the exploration – and in one case the progression – of character. While David Bengali’s colorful projected images backdrop a rich epiphany for one, all three proofreaders reveal their metaphorical guts in scenes that feel painfully real after all the rocking humor: Kate’s songs, Mark’s subsequent confession of his romantic feelings, and Sherri’s poetic imagining of what really happened to the missing proofreader. We have met these people, or people very much like them, in our real lives. The production gives us cartoonish avatars of elemental humanity who are nonetheless folksy, familiar, and very real.
The ending may be a bit overblown, but director José Zayas guides the cast through Rosen’s three-scene arc with a sure hand, eliciting delightfully funny and touching performances and bringing to life a hilarious and ultimately graceful story of people who amid the apparent hopelessness of their efforts to live meaningful lives find a faint glow of positivity.
Washed Up on the Potomac is one of the most entertaining shows I’ve seen all year. It runs in rotating rep with Tania in the Getaway Van and The Rafa Play at The Flea through December 16. For tickets visit The Pool or call 212-352-3101.