By Clea DeCrane; Directed by Kevin Kittle
Produced by Station 26 Productions
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 12.23.18
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 12.19.18
Clea DeCrane and Andy Do in Bitter Greens. Photo by Brendan Swift.
BOTTOM LINE: This darkly funny drama focuses on a group of college friends trying to find themselves professionally post-graduation and discovering that their expectations do not always match up to reality.
Reyna, the main character in Bitter Greens (played by Clea DeCrane, also the playwright), experiences a crisis that must be familiar to many millennials: realizing that despite endless internships, a near perfect GPA, and a belief in your own uniqueness as a person, the job you envisioned waiting for you after graduation does not exist. Reyna is an overachieving Berkeley graduate and a strict vegan who ingests endless vitamins and kale smoothies. She has her eye on a dream job with a company called Green Communications, and is so sure of her acceptance that she does not bother to pursue any alternate plans. She spends her nights endlessly refreshing her email inbox, waiting for her acceptance letter to arrive.
Except it doesn't. It turns out that Reyna's sweet and far less perfect boyfriend Andrew (Andy Do) also secretly applied and was accepted into the Green Communications journalism program. Reyna is livid, but does her best to maintain her façade of cheerfulness while fostering a deep resentment for her beau. This hostility manifests itself when one day she dumps half a bottle of vitamin B capsules into Andrew's kale smoothie. She continues this routine, secretly poisoning her boyfriend. Meanwhile, all of her college friends seem to be fulfilling their dreams: Lily (Regan Sims) has just launched a line of herbal tonic waters and Catilin (Jessica Darrow) is entering her painting into an art show. Reyna, who has always been the star, despairs over suddenly not feeling special and settles for waitressing until she can find something better. Andrew's health, meanwhile, is disintegrating.
Bitter Greens works more as a comedy than a drama, with its satire of health and wellness-obsessed culture. (The show really ought to get some corporate sponsorship from Trader Joe's: they mention the grocery chain so much during the production that I found myself filled with a sudden urge to go there.) Friends Caitlin and Lily provide plenty of comedic relief, with Jessica Darrow showing a particular knack for comedic delivery, though the characters can be a bit one dimensional and often venture into cartoonish territory. DeCrane shows a lot of skill as an actor, turning her heroine/villain into someone worthy of empathy. As a playwright, her dialogue is peppered with clever quips and one liners, all of which the cast delivers with mastery under the guidance of director Kevin Kittle.
The plot's dramatic twists and turns, as well as the actors' onstage chemistry, make this an enthralling production from start to finish. The show also has a streamlined feel which can in part be credited to Keith Lalley's original music and sound design and Christianne Blakewell's stylish costume design. Cate McCrea's set allows for the small stage to convincingly encompass multiple locations. Bitter Greens isn't quite perfect, but it certainly establishes Clea DeCrane as a name worth remembering.
(Bitter Greens plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through December 23, 2018. Running time is 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:30. Tickets are $25 and are available at 59E59.org or by calling 646-892-7999. For more information visit station26productions.com.)
Bitter Greens is by Clea DeCrane. Directed by Kevin Kittle. Set Design by Cate McCrea. Lighting Design by Maximo Grano de Oro. Original Music and Sound Design by Keith Lalley. Stage Manager is Rachel Kaufman.
The cast is Jessica Darrow, Clea DeCrane, Andy Do, Ben Lorenz, and Regan Sims.