In the world of theatrical reviewing, the word “sitcom” applied to a comedy can carry the negative weight of the word “preachy” applied to a drama.
But sitcoms—mini-plays concerned more about character and punch lines and familiarity than plot and believability—can be enormously pleasurable. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most comedic plays don’t come close to the kick of a decent episode of “How I Met Your Mother.”
So when I compare “Current Economic Conditions,” the play by Don Zolidis premiering at the Phoenix Theatre, to a sitcom, please understand that I’m not being a sneering scribe, looking down at the form. I’m merely trying to make clear where most of this production’s pleasures lie.
“Current Economic Conditions” concerns a young woman of limited ambition whose full-time job with a book publisher (side note: can’t writers come up with jobs that aren’t in publishing or advertising?) is downsized into an internship—which her no-BS sense of humor helps her to lose.
Money being tight, she resorts to moving back in with Mom and Dad while she looks for work and tries not to hate herself. If Tim Allen had walked on as Dad instead of Charles Goad, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
In the incidents that follow—job interviews, conflict with the parents, meeting an also-unemployed nice guy—character traits exist to serve the jokes rather than the overall piece. And the supporting players aren’t meant to be taken as anything but broadly drawn cartoons (although these one-noters are well-played by multi-tasking actors Bill Simmons and Cindy Phillips).
Zolidis’ world is one where parents give an adult daughter a curfew, where condoms are nicknamed “raincoats” in a father/daughter discussion so that Mom doesn’t know what’s being discussed, and where we’re expected to believe that our heroine’s bedroom (kept just as she left it) would sport Justin Bieber and “Twilight” posters, even ironically, and that she would leave them up even after they’ve creeped out a guy she likes.
Zolidis gets away with these and more potential cringers because he’s so good with jokes and so effective at keeping things moving. And because he’s blessed with actress Maria Souza-Eglen, who skillfully recovers even from the most absurd moments with subtle moment of emotional truths faced by her character in crisis. A gesture here and a look there help keeps things grounded, helping the audience ignore her character’s rampant selfishness and the show-ending platitudes.
A smart sitcom casting director would be wise to take a look at the whole cast—and consider hiring their show's talented writer as well.
“Current Economic Conditions” runs through Feb. 12. Details here.