If you’ve ever found yourself trying to persuade a malfunctioning gadget to behave itself, you will identify with the inciting incident that sets Pamela Stark on a new life course. The stressed out antique book dealer is on musical hold in a long queue awaiting help with her printer. In her hand, her iPhone displays the divorce papers her husband has blithely texted over, while in the background her coffeemaker emits discomforting smoke. When customer service representative Chip finally comes on the line, it is Pam who breaks down, erupting with pent up frustration and hurt. Unable to solve her issue, Chip transfers her… to 1919. Pam finds herself in a boarding house where the women are more concerned with securing the vote and access to birth control than getting a prescription refill from their shrink. This is the first stop of many on Pam’s journey of discovery in Debra Whitfield’s comedic Tech Support, now playing at 59E59 Theaters.
The staging is impressive, especially given the tight space. There are even a few dance numbers to enliven the scene changes. However, playwright Whitfield might have benefited from working with a director other than herself if only to have another seasoned talent contribute to the development process. The script contains some genuinely revealing moments, but they are all too quickly brushed aside in favor of easy laughs. Opportunities to answer questions about what progress looks and feels like are replaced with rom-com trivialities. Ultimately, the logic of the story doesn’t hold up and the ending is disappointing.
Regardless of the plot’s weaknesses, those in the mood to be swept away will get caught up in the waves of enthusiasm and joy emanating from the cast. Star Margot White could take Pam’s initial anxiety level down a notch and still fill the room, but she ultimately finds her rhythm and exudes great tenderness. She is well partnered with the positively darling and nimble-on-his-feet Ryan Avalos as All the Chips. Mark Lotito, Lauriel Friedman and Leanne Cabrera give depth to each distinct period in their assorted roles.
The creative team has done an incredible job of transforming a little blackbox theater into time machine. Shifts in years are illustrated with projections designed by Elliott Forrest which blend period photos and graphic patterns. The effects are enhanced by well-chosen songs and a rich soundscape designed by Ed Matthew. Natalie Taylor Hart’s scenic design builds on the theme, incorporating circuit design elements and three portal/doors. The set pieces are cleverly constructed, though the actors’ pacing is thrown whenever they are forced to double as stage hands. Hair and make-up by Inga Thrasher capture each decade and set off Janice O’Donnell’s playful costumes. For theater buffs, their efforts alone are worth the $25 ticket price.
While there are too many shortcuts taken in Pam’s journey, for most of its 80 minutes Tech Support is enjoyable fun. The production is produced by Chatillion Stage Company where Ms. Whitfield serves are Artistic Director. Tickets for performances through September 21 are available at https://www.59e59.org/shows/show-detail/tech-support/.
Tagged: Cathy Hammer, Chatillion Stage Company, Comedy, Debra Whitfield, Ed Matthew, Elliott Forrest, Inga Thrasher, Janice O'Donnell, Lauriel Friedman, Leanne Cabrera, Margot White, Mark Lotito, Natalie Taylor Hart, Off-Broadway, Rom-Com, Ryan Avalos, Tech Support