by Mike Hoban
‘The Empaths’ – Written by John Markus and Rebecca Bazell; Directed by Jeffry George. Scenic and Lighting Design by Christopher Ostrom; Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley; Sound Design & Original Music by Nathan Leigh. Presented by the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater at 2357 Route 6 in Wellfleet through August 19th.
The ritual of dating has come a long way from the “have I got a girl/guy for you!” era of the blind date, to the point where everything you need to know about a romantic prospect is (theoretically) available on your I-phone. But for Celine (Kate Margalite), an attractive 30-something Daddy’s girl searching for true – and extreme vetted – love, that’s not good enough, as we see in “Empaths”, the consistently funny new comedy now making its world premiere at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater.
Following a falling out with her father (who is edging her out of his life in favor of his new wife), Celine meets the man she thinks may be “the one” at a coffee shop. He is a millennial feminist’s dream – the anti-alpha male – who also works as a socially responsible investor. His latest investment is in a company that extracts toxins from the Great Barrier Reef and transforms them into a remedy for menstrual cramps, which has Celine swooning. She and Lichen (that’s his first name, and the gags around his full, multipley-hyphenated name are pretty entertaining as well), hit it off, and she arranges for their first date to be someplace special – in her therapist’s office. Once there, the pair agree to see each other only in the confines of a therapeutic setting for the first six dates as they get to “really” know each other.
In the meantime, Celine has been supplanted as the apple of her father’s eye by Diane (Boston favorite Jackie Davis), his wildly successful, ultra-connected second wife who is everything Celine’s pill-popping alcoholic mother was not. Diane is (wisely) pressuring her father Barry (Ron Komora) to let Celine fly away from the nest and become a little more self-sufficient (Celine still brings Barry her laundry to do, for instance), so Celine is feeling a little threatened. There is also a minor plot involving Barry (who earns his living in the high-end commode business) launching a hi-tech bidet that provides a few chuckles but mostly fills time in the play at the expense of the primary plot.
“The Empaths” is at its best in the office of the therapist, Fred (Charles Weinstein), whose fourth wall asides are a comic highlight, as well as any scene involving the absurd life of Lichen (Sam Perwin) who was raised in a commune by his ultra-progressive parents to be the “gender-neutral” man that Celine thinks she will adore. Co-Playwright John Markus (Emmy and Peabody Awards) is an acclaimed TV comedy writer, and he has the ability to make people laugh almost on command. The downside is that much of the play feels like a sitcom, and by the end of the play, the plot almost totally degenerates. His writing partner, journalist Rebecca Bazell, gives the dialogue delivered by Celine and Diane an authenticity (such as when Celine recognizes that sleeping with her prospects on the first date is probably not the best long-term relationship strategy), but one wonders if having two writers contibutes to the lack of cohesiveness (especially when a number of details involving Celine’s deceased mother and Barry are tacked on as an afterthought near the play’s end).
Still, “The Empaths” provides enough laughs to make it worth a look, and it’s pretty decent summer fare. For more info, go to: www.what.org