At the outset of Elemeno Pea, a Molly Smith-Metzler play at Citadel Theatre, there is arguing. Halfway in, there’s still arguing. The whole show centers on the tired “rich vs poor” trope, and revolves around two sisters, Devon and Simone, who are at odds because of their social class. And they just can’t keep from yelling at each other about it, save to introduce other characters who have, surprise, other arguments to introduce. Unfortunately, there’s no argument that could be made that would convince me to recommend this show, wherever and by whomever it was being performed. The play debuted at the Humana Festival in Louisville in 2011
The truth of the matter is that none of the characters are even remotely likable, and, regardless of how talented the actors and actresses tackling the parts, they come off as over-the-top stereotypes. We know we’re probably supposed to be siding with Devon (Maggie Kettering) as she travels to see her sister at her fabulous employer’s estate, but within the first few lines of dialogue, she establishes an obnoxious, self-righteous, overly profane vibe that only grows more grating as time wears on. Meanwhile, her sister oozes a combination of Stepford Wife and Stockholm Syndrome vibes at the same time she’s flaunting her boogie lifestyle.
Enter Ethan (Nic Fantl), the vapid, unemployed rich manchild, and Michaela, the “tortured”/spoiled housewife, who used to be a lawyer. She provides the play’s main action, as she’s actively torn apart the sister’s beach weekend with her own issues with her husband. The one character we did have some affection for was the Hispanic caretaker, Jos-B, played by Ray Andrecheck, who provided a genuine laugh here and there that gave legitimacy to labelling Elemeno as a comedy, but in the final act of the play, even he falls from grace with the audience, unable to show even a speck of compassion towards his former employer.
We might be too quick to fault him on this point though, since the “twist” that Metzler employs at the end of the play to make Michaela, who has otherwise been an entitled, haughty horror, sympathetic both doesn’t really make any logical sense considering what came before, and comes far, far too late in the play to make even the audience care.
It’s difficult to fault Citadel itself, save for show choice, when it comes to this night at the theater, except in a few technical areas. The set was beautifully dressed and served the play very well, but soundboard issues caused a high-pitched whine that was headache inducing, especially considering the already high volume levels of the mics and the fact that this play is essentially a series of different arguments and everyone is almost always yelling. We also found makeup on Michaela, played by Greyson Heyl, so intense as to be distracting.
Truth be told, my conclusion is that the play itself is unenjoyable, and that’s unfortunate for the cast and crew of Citadel. I feel like the materials they were given were nigh insurmountable in this case, and that’s more on Smith-Metzler than anyone on stage. While I can’t recommend this show, I am curious to see the actors and actresses involved in a different show and role with Citadel, and will be keeping an eye out for upcoming shows.
Elemeno Pea runs 95 minutes without intermission and will continue through March 5 with 7:30pm performances Thursday-Sunday and additional matinee performances Wednesday, February 8 and 22 at 11am. Tickets are $35-38 and can be purchased online at www.citadeltheatre.org or by calling 847-735-8554. Citadel Theatre West Campus is located at 300 S. Waukegan Rd. in Lake Forest.