“Lots of people fall in love but it’s nothing to get married over!”
Does Sonya love her apartment with a washer/dryer more than her new husband? Nandita Shenoy’s romantic comedy about newlyweds and real estate makes this a plausible question by setting this story in New York City—where real estate is its own challenging relationship. Shenoy’s situation comedy, directed by Benjamin Kamine, skates along on mostly fluffy charm. From time to time, the sexy leads deliver on this sweet promise, but for this kind of comedic froth you need the bubbly fun to last for the full 90-minute show. As the circumstances become more farcical (and not all the performances rise to the challenge), the laughs begin to feel forced.
Freelance journalist Michael (Johnny Wu) has eloped with actor Sonya (Nandita Shenoy) on a Groupon weekend to Vegas after dating for only three months. Because their Vegas nuptials were so rushed, they have just now started to make discoveries about one another. Sonya failed to mention that her prized-possession/studio apartment on the Upper East Side is single occupancy only, and Michael still has not introduced his parents to Sonya. This burgeoning relationship is put under real strain when Michael’s mother Dr. Lee (Jade Wu) and the ultra-strict co-op board president Wendee (Annie McNamara) both start nosing around Sonya and Michael’s relationship and their cramped apartment. Suddenly, with all this pressure on them, Sonya and Michael are not sure they should have gotten married.
Because of the farcical nature of the play, the supporting characters get drawn broadly: the overbearing Asian mom (“She’s not a psychotic stalker. She’s an Asian mother.”), the high-strung, co-op rule-obsessed New Yorker, and the wise-cracking, black, gay neighbour, Sam (Jamyl Dobson).
Dr. Lee’s intense parenting eventually morphs so that we start to see her as a more full human being. Jade Wu finds real substance in her role as Michael’s mother and she delivers some touching moments. The play’s strongest moments come from Dr. Lee’s blatant honesty in a room full of people lying for all sorts of reasons. Her presence in the story also brings out some of the lite cross-cultural issues raised by the play since Michael is Chinese-American and Sonya is Indian. But mostly she represents a traditional voice of family in a relationship where Sonya and Michael are making up new rules for themselves and struggling a bit in that regard.
I just wish the stereotypical gay neighbour, Sam, got the same treatment as Dr. Lee. Sam is meant to be in the dark about Sonya’s marriage and a bit of exposition comes out through their heart-to-heart over this, but in this production their dynamic feels like a device and not an organic, sincere relationship. And if some of the stereotypes of the Asian “tiger mom” get unmasked here, I wish the same could be said of the gay neighbour.
Shenoy, who is both playwright and performer here, shares a flirty chemistry with co-star Johnny Wu, which serves the play well. A rom-com needs that heat or else it’s dead in the water. But their performances need some tightening up with both comedic timing and when their characters get serious.
The same could be said for Kamine’s direction. The Shenoy’s script has some nice one-liners and zippy dialogue, but the production feels too loose. There’s a tentativeness and hesitancy at times that deflates the comedy. Hopefully, with a few more performances under their belts some of this shakiness can be turned into stronger, sharper beats.
As playwright Kristoffer Diaz pointed out when presenting his own farce, The Upstairs Concierge, last season in Chicago, “[a]ctors of color don’t often get cast in broad, silly comedies.” So it’s great to see Ma-Yi Theater Company, which is dedicated to the work of Asian American playwrights, offering just that for a diverse cast. I just wish Washer/Dryer, which is ultimately a pleasant diversion, had been side-splittingly funny.
Washer/Dryer is on until 20th February 2016. Click here for tickets.