By Abby Rosebrock; Directed by Stephanie Ward
Part of F*ckfest
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 7.1.15
The Brick, 579 Metropolitan Avenue
by Ken Kaissar on 6.16.14
Graeme Gillis and Abby Rosebrock in Singles in Agriculture.
BOTTOM LINE: A beautifully written new play about sexual frustration and loneliness.
Singles in Agriculture takes place in a Texas hotel room at a convention for single farmers. I’ve never considered how lonely it must be to be an unwed farmer, but I’m heartened to know that conventions like these exist for farmers to find each other. That is, of course, if they actually exist and are not merely a scenario dreamt up by playwright Abby Rosebrock. But the play is so detailed and feels so true to life that I’m willing to believe just about anything Rosebrock wants to tell me, including the surprising fact that women far outnumber the men at these conventions. Wow. Really?
Joel (Graeme Gillis) has discreetly slipped his room key to Priscilla (playwright Rosebrock), and the two arrive at his room for a potential one-night stand. Sounds simple enough until we learn that Joel is a fine upstanding Christian boy who has chosen to be celibate until marriage. This obstacle wouldn’t be nearly so difficult to overcome if he wasn’t so nervous about his first sexual experience, and completely judgmental about Priscilla’s sexual past. Priscilla is so lovable and lonely that we find ourselves at the edge of our seats praying that this nervous Christian will get over his scruples and have sex with her already.
The play is well contained and focused and never fails to capture our interest or our emotional investment. But the real strength of this piece is in the dignity and intelligence with which Rosebrock endows her characters. When I heard that the play was about farmers having sex, I assumed that this would be an evening of cheap humor in which New Yorkers are invited to laugh at people from Red States. Not so with Rosebrock in charge. Her characters may lack education, but they are exceptionally articulate and obviously care a tremendous amount about what they do. I know nothing about farming, but it was so much fun to listen to Joel and Priscilla banter and argue their views on the subject. The result is wonderfully satisfying and endlessly entertaining.
Stephanie Ward does an excellent job directing this three-piece ensemble. Her staging is simple and keeps her actors focused on one another, which allows the chemistry between them to build through the course of the play. Rosebrock plays Priscilla with gorgeous vulnerability and charming humor, and communicates her character’s needs without making her needy. Gillis captures his character’s idiosyncrasies without judgment, so we are inclined to empathize rather than criticize. And Dawn McGee makes a brief but delightful appearance as Lois, a Texas police officer who comes to investigate certain sounds that come out of the room. Again, this would be a tremendously easy character to send up, but McGee plays her with nothing but respect, making us laugh without asking us to laugh at her character.
The entire production displays sophistication and artistry. F*uckfest is very lucky to have this piece as part of its festival, but I do hope it will find its way to a bigger stage with a longer run.
(Singles in Agricultre plays at The Brick, 579 Metropolitan Avenue, through July 1, 2015. Remaining performances are Sunday, June 21 at 8PM and Wednesday, July 1 at 7PM. Tickets are $18 and are available at bricktheater.com or by calling 866-811-4111.)