Natural: Annex Theatre’s new black comedy cuts through the personal drama with a lot of laughs
Natural, the new play from playwright Marcus Gorman and director Jen Moon premiered at Annex Theatre last night, and here’s what you need to know. Arthur and Jeremy work together at a sports marketing firm, they drink at a bar where Samantha, a former exotic dancer, works. Jeremy doesn’t know that Arthur is gay, and thinks he’s another one of the guys. Theo and Kingston work in a bookstore, and Chloe did until she was fired for promoting her erotica website there. Theo and Arthur are a couple, but Arthur falls for Samantha, a woman, while Kingston, a barista who deals drugs on the side, has a big crush on Theo. Chloe and Jeremy make for a very unlikely couple. Jeremy is a bro who keeps a binder of all of his sexual conquests. Meanwhile, Sam has some stories she wants to get published on Chloe’s website. Verisimilitude, which means “the appearance of being true or real,” is bandied around a lot.
If it all sounds confusing (and it does), it’s how it’s meant to be.
It is a story that features six photogenic, Caucasian, millennial Seattleites who are never more than a degree removed from each other’s personal drama. It’s not the most unique premise for a production, and I only found myself caring about half of the characters, but there were quite a few things I admired about it.
First thing I liked about the Natural is that it’s often very funny. At times, the dialogue is so sharp it feels like what might happen if David Mamet concerned himself with such trivialities (and didn’t have that weird conversion to Republicanism), he might write something like Natural. There were several one-liners I wrote down in my notepad, both for reference in this review, and potential future use, like Theo saying, “I’m drinking so much herbal tea I’m going to start defecating ginseng.” As Chloe, Pilar O’Connell has most of the best lines, and the comedic timing to get some of the best laughs of the play (she calls Kingston a “Scarface-wannabe dick whistle,” which is my new favorite insult of the moment). One of my favorite moments is when Sam tells Chloe she has worked at bachelor parties in her previous life, and Chloe asks her, “As a stripper or a magician?”
Shane Regan, who plays Arthur (or Art, but not Artie), also deserves praise for his performance. Like O’Connell, I enjoyed his comedic timing, but I also thought he did a great job playing a character that has to be a different person for his boyfriend, his girlfriend, and his coworker. If only all of the male characters were written as well. Disappointingly, I found the Kingston and Jeremy characters used mostly for the more fully-realized characters to have someone to react to. Those were the two most thankless characters, but Dustyn Moir (Kingston) and Jaryl Draper (Jeremy) both do fine jobs with what they have to work with.
Conversely, I was looking forward to each moment when Pilar O’Connell and Allie Pratt were on stage because their characters’ plights deserve more exploration. Chloe is a publisher of erotica who must contend with a Jeremy who understands that to mean she has no boundaries or limits and is perpetually aroused, and Samantha is a former exotic dancer whose reputation precedes her to the point where even a gay character knows what she once did for employment.
With an ensemble production like this, you can’t expect to enjoy every character (and you shouldn’t!), it’s just that with the Chloe, Samantha, and Arthur characters are where my senses of sympathy and empathy fall. As “they” “say” on “the Internet,” your mileage may vary. And as frustrating as I found some of the characters some of the time, I think Marcus Gorman nicely captured a time when every personal dilemma feels like melodrama to its participants.
Natural is too uneven to be perfect, but there are some great moments with some great performances and some great laughs to be found in here. Through February 18, it is an excellent way to spend a Tuesday or Wednesday evening. It’s why God invented the DVR.