Written by Sheila Callaghan; Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
Produced by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 3.29.15
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street
by Shani R. Friedman on 2.15.15
Allegra Rose Edwards, Miriam Silverman, Chelsea Fryer, Christian Coulson, and Nina Ordman in Everything You Touch. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: This piercing and funny decade-hopping new play tackles the fashion industry, body image, and the havoc parents wreak on their children.
Victor (Christian Coulson) is a skinny, chain-smoking, take-no-prisoners '70s era fashion designer of some renown who thinks food is “for the weak and women who hate themselves.” He’s outfitted impeccably, looking like a hotter, young Mick Jagger, and thinks fashion should be “a lover’s quarrel that ends in murder.” Yet the indulged enfant terrible of the moment is in turmoil. He tells his stunning, equally cutting muse and sometime bed partner Esme (Tonya Glanz) that it’s utterly absurd to create a “$9000 blazer for someone six foot three and 92 pounds in the worst economy since the depression.” He has no new ideas and without her, he says plaintively, he is “just a hand sewing the air without any thread.” They are perfect for each other, which means Victor will of course screw it up by installing a new lesser muse, Louella (Lisa Kitchens), into his business and bedroom.
Jess (Miriam Silverman), the physical antithesis of everything Victor represents, is an average-sized 21st century American woman. She admits to having no friends but hasn’t run off her co-worker Lewis (Robbie Tan), who injects a welcome dose of sweetness with his puppy dog-like eagerness and kindness. Jess works joylessly for an internet start up, goes for days without showering and her self loathing manifests in her seeing beautiful models everywhere and putting pain-inducing hot sauce on her lunch order because she feels she “needs to suffer for her food.” She wants to kill herself because her “life is even more banal than the choice to end it.”
Having just learned from a neighbor that her mother is dying of cancer, Jess sits in a bar trying unsuccessfully to muster up any emotion for the woman she hasn’t spoken to in seven years. She’s waiting for someone she hasn’t met yet: a skinny man who smokes a lot, looks like her long-dead father whose face she can’t actually conjure up and with whom she can have epic, crazy sex. And who should drop in out of the past but...Victor (it’s a pleasure to just go with it).
As played by Coulson and Silverman, who are both completely engaging as, respectively, the witty, smart narcissistic ass and the sarcastic, self-destructive lost soul, it’s a scene that is sexy, hilarious, strange and tender. Callaghan has a knack for injecting both laughs and pathos, making characters that in other hands would come off as assholes or overly intellectual sad sacks as quite a bit more. She and director Jessica Kubzansky also get special mention for how they brilliantly employ the models (Allegra Rose Edwards, Chelsea Nicolle Fryer and Nina Ordman) as props and furnishings. In one scene, the three stand in for a car and in a nice touch, a model’s bodice is adorned with headlights. In another, Edwards stands in for a phone with one attached to her head, which gets a disturbed reaction from Jess as she pauses to answer it, and an almost wink to the audience.
Ahead there will be a road trip to see Jess’s mother and further revelations before Victor, Jess and company implode and/or find some measure of peace free of the demons of the past. While the production could use a few trims -- such as shortening Jess’s office scenes with their industry jargon and getting to the heart of her story, and I found the detour that has one of the principles moving out of New York and essentially ruined for life to not be entirely plausible -- the great lines, amazing costumes (courtesy of Jenny Foldenauer) and memorable performances make for a very winning production.
(Everything You Touch plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre through March 29, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $56 and available at rattlestick.org or by calling 866-811-4111.)