Review: "Everything is Super Great" is, in Fact, Super Great

Everything is Super Great

Written by Stephen Brown

Directed by Sarah Norris

Presented by New Light Theater Project in association with Stable Cable Lab Co. at 59E59 Theaters

59 E. 59th St., Manhattan, NYC

November 22-December 14, 2019

L-R: Xavier Rodney, Lisa Jill Anderson, Will Sarratt, Marcia Debonis. Photo by Hunter Canning.
Celebration of the self-reliant individualist remains deeply rooted in American culture, such that a need for mental or emotional support can be regarded as weakness or inadequacy. This dynamic is on clear display in Stephen Brown's Everything is Super Great, a play in which 19 year-old protagonist Tommy (Will Sarratt) denies that he has any "problems," "[j]ust like, anger and depression" and his co-worker Alice (Lisa Jill Anderson) insists, "I'm fine" even as she cannot locate the neurologically deteriorating mother for whom she acts as sole caretaker. Everything is Super Great explores the role of these kinds of isolating self-protective mechanisms in the face of loss as it treats audiences to a finely drawn and consummately acted character study.

Each of the four characters in Brown's play is suffering from and attempting to deal with some form of loss. Tommy's brother is physically missing; Alice's mother is almost entirely mentally absent, possibly as a result of Alzheimer's; and Dave (Xavier Rodney), hired as Tommy's art therapist, is still waiting for his ex-girlfriend to re-enter his life, even though he hasn't heard from her in months. Tommy's mother, Anne (Marcia Debonis), whose job at a Texas Walmart always rankled her now-absent son and whose husband is no longer part of the family, fears losing Tommy too, and so begins the play as the one character actively seeking to reach out and connect. Unfortunately, Tommy feels smothered by Anne's attempts, as we see in the opening scene, in which Anne listens in from outside his bedroom door to Tommy recording a message on his computer and determinedly tries to ply him with Pop-Tarts (her single culinary specialty). Because the characters are so well observed and performed, both Tommy's and Anne's behavior, flaws included, is understandable and sympathetic. This might extend to the circumstances under which Tommy left his previous job, an exit that precipitates both his starting a job at Starbucks, where he meets Alice, and his mother's hiring Dave to help Tommy, who prefers the internet both for any kind of therapy and for more questionable activities. Dave himself turns out to have some issues with repressed anger (and with establishing his practice), and the question becomes whether these people will accept the help and support from one another that they need to move forward in their lives. 

L-R: Will Sarratt, Lisa Jill Anderson. Photo by Hunter Canning.
The performances are, as mentioned and without exception, superb, a grounded and vivid balance of comedy and pathos. Sarratt's Tommy convincingly punctuates his earnest awkwardness with fiery outbursts or unexpected moments of seizing control of a situation, while Anderson, an always-terrific Stable Cable regular, excels at the disaffected, deadpan delivery that serves as Alice's interpersonal armor. Debonis powerfully embodies both Anne's pain and her dogged optimism, and Rodney's Dave is warm, funny, and authentic. The clever set, designed by Brian Dudkiewicz, deserves mention as a cohesive space that efficiently suggests settings from a break room to a car.

L-R: Will Sarratt, Marcia Debonis. Photo by Hunter Canning.
At one of their meetings, Dave tells Tommy, "I went through a hard time. People go through hard times." Later in the same meeting, Tommy tells Dave that he believes that his brother just needs to know that someone is there for him. Tommy's statement could apply equally to all of the characters, and together with Dave's observation, these statements approximate the thesis of Everything is Super Great. Thematically and narratively, in Everything is Super Great, process is its own closure, and while its title may be ironic, it is also an apt descriptor of this excellent production.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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