“The Mistakes Madeline Made” at The Living Room Theatre tells a story of human connection overcoming modern life’s dissatisfaction and loneliness. The 85 minute piece doesn’t lag, and keeps the show moving and the jokes coming. It looks at questions of privilege and suffering.
Edna (Melissa Fennewald), an angry and sarcastic young woman, just started working a new job for a wealthy family. The workers fulfill any demand they have. The boss is the perfectionist and overly chipper Beth (Carrie Lenahan). Edna slowly gets to know her odd co-worker Wilson (Brian Huther), who often mimics machine sounds. Together they decide to slowly tear the office apart. Edna’s anger is fueled by her brother Buddy’s (Ben Auxier) death, which occurred during the Iraq war.
Before he died, he refused to bathe to symbolize his inability to move on or cleanse himself from his memories of the war. Edna similarly becomes ablutophobic, which is a fear of bathing, when she cannot move on from her brother’s death. The pain and boredom of everyday life seem less significant juxtaposed with the suffering experienced in war-torn Iraq that Buddy experienced. The way the ablutophobia works as a cohesive element is very clever and original.
Many of the characters are written with the potential to veer wildly into over-the-top territory. Good performances underlie most of the characters, but ultimately Edna, because Fennewald’s performance is largely angry sarcasm, lacks depth until the final scene when suddenly an emotional breakdown and transformation are required. One scene is not enough to portray the anguish Edna faces, and it feels like an extreme shift since the character’s deeper pain emerged too late in the performance. The audience loses the emotional angst, and is left with only an insecure snark in Fennewald’s performance, which is not enough to hold the play.
The pretentious young writers, Jake, Blake and Drake, who Edna uses to quash her own self-doubt and grief, are all played by Seth Macchi.
Sometimes it feels like shots taken at the characters are a bit easy, but are undeniably hilarious. No amount of sex will stomp out Edna’s guilt, and the meaningless one-night stands only build her self-hatred. It is a way for Edna find control over her life.
The script’s balance between the sarcastic office comedy and the drama of coping with grief of a lost loved one is not always successful. However, the understated comic moments based on character interactions are heightened by the blocking. Director Natalie Licardello has a strong sense of the script’s rhythm, and is not afraid to take the appropriate silences or to quickly drive through a scene.
The comedic acting is strong. The chemistry between Auxier and Fennewald is realistic and feels genuine. Their arguing is quite realistic and feels like they share a sibling-like history. Lenahan’s Beth is loathsome, yet understandable. Auxier has to perform a dramatic role in a mostly comic show, and is quite powerful. Huther as the socially inept but empathetic Wilson is a revelation. Huther’s skill is demonstrated as he avoids becoming only a caricature of comedic relief. His final monologue is well-written and performed, and a straightforward, touching moment of theatre. Macchi shows immense versatility as he plays comedic roles.
The set design by Mark Hambrecht is creative. The play is performed in the Living Room’s green room. Some of the venue’s seats have poor angles for viewers to fully experience the performance’s comedic gags.
While having to handle some abrupt shifts in tone, the show entertains and presents a unique perspective that is definitely worth experiencing. The show runs through Oct. 20 at The Living Room.
For more information check out http://www.thelivingroomkc.com/.