Written by Joan Bigwood; Directed by Brandi Varnell
Presented by Squeaky Bicycle Productions
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs Through 2.25.18
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue
by Emily Cordes on 2.14.18
Carly King, Michael Vitaly Sazonov, Lydia Gladstone, and Curry Whitmire in Or Current Resident. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
BOTTOM LINE: Technology, gentrification, and change test the bonds of an unconventional family.
For better or worse, technology colors our modern lives, influencing everything from our careers to our communication styles. In such regions as California’s Silicon Valley its impact is especially acute, the tech sector fueling cities’ economies as it draws their physical and demographic borders. Set in contemporary Palo Alto, Joan Bigwood’s Or Current Resident embodies this tension in the lives of the Finch family, a multigenerational household caught in the dual tides of interpersonal conflict and socioeconomic pressure.
In the wake of her husband’s death, Finch matriarch Mimi (Lydia Gladstone) now shares her property—and its heightened rent—with adult daughters Lynn (Bettina Goolsby) and Jill (Krystle N. Adams). Silicon Valley’s frenzied tech industry keeps the household and its residents on perpetually shaky ground: Lynn, an aspiring realtor, makes her living through the area’s capricious housing market, earning commissions on the vacated properties she earmarks for “Facebook millionaires.” Agoraphobic single mother Jill supports her teenage twins Mason (Curry Whitmire) and Molly (Carly King) by editing software manuals, but flounders between gigs as frequent upgrades render her past work obsolete. The Finches’ logistic and emotional resources are further strained when Mimi opens her doors to prodigal-but-peaceful son Ted (Michael Vitaly Sazonov) after his fifteen-year prison stint.
United by love and necessity, internal and external pressures challenge the bonds that sustain this unconventional clan. Ted’s reintegration efforts turn disastrous when his attempts at family bonding expose an uncomfortable truth about the twins’ parentage. This revelation, coupled with her classmates’ cyber-bullying, sends Molly into a self-destructive tailspin. A new online romance, and the struggle to be there for her children, forces Jill to confront her own vulnerability and widening detachment from the outside world. Even Mimi, the family’s cheerful nucleus, finds her resolve tested as her age and dwindling income leave her ill suited to protect the home she has built. As long-term neighbors are displaced and their landlord’s “alternate plans” for the property surface, the Finches must draw on their inner resources to survive.
Despite its high stakes and fast emotional clip, Or Current Resident rarely feels soap operatic: credit here lies in Bigwood’s well-rounded script and the cast’s subtle chemistry. Whitmire’s Mason nicely marries teenage snark and gravitas as he rises to support those he loves. As ex-con Ted, Sazonov charmingly stumbles to redeem himself and become a force for good in his family’s lives; he and Whitmire share an enjoyable journey from joint awkwardness to mutual respect. Adams’ Jill is especially poignant, a portrait of a fragile woman slowly losing her grip on all things safe and familiar. By presenting characters we can simultaneously laugh at, root for, and relate to, Bigwood drives home the point that these merciless systems can impact any of us: the relief we may feel at a neighboring building’s demolition or sick thrill at another’s digital humiliation can just as easily turn when we become the market or media’s next casualty. Moreover, the Finches’ reliance on and susceptibility to the whims of technology and gentrification reveals such industries’ innate cannibalism and capacity to lock participants in a zero-sum game.
The Finch family home, and the lives it contains, forms Or Current Resident’s thematic center. Edging the peripheries of Theater for the New City’s black box, Meg McGuigan’s realistic set grants us access to this space with just the right blend of intimacy and distance. Like witnessing online dramas or overhearing conversations in a shared apartment, this tight internal frame keeps us invested in the action yet removed enough to observe the broader issues at play.
Firmly ensconced in our historical moment, modern urban audiences can easily relate to Or Current Resident’s blended family dynamic, fraught capitalism, and paradox of hyper-closeness and social disconnect. Yet the play’s cultural specificity highlights rather than obscures its larger call to preserve our humanity and forge peace and stability in circumstances that confound it. Like the Finches, and the birds whose name they bear, we can, with heart and determination, persist in an ever-changing world.
(Or Current Resident plays at Theater For The New City, 155 First Avenue, through February 25, 2018. The running time is 90 minutes with one intermission. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8; Sundays at 3. Tickets are $18 ($15 students/seniors) and are available at theaterforthenewcity.net or by calling 212-254-1109. For more information visit squeakybicycleproductions.com.)
Or Current Resident is by Joan Bigwood. Directed by Brandi Varnell. Set Design by Meg McGuigan. Lighting Design by S. "Stoli" Stolnack. Sound Design by Megan Culley. Production Stage Manager is Mary Linehan.
The cast is Lydia Gladstone, Bettina Goolsby, Krystle N. Adams, Curry Whitmire, Carly King, and Michael Vitaly Sazonov.