Fort Worth — For the world premiere of Smart Pretty Funny by Kathleen Culebro at Amphibian Stage Productions, director Lisa Devine has devised a clever and charming staging for this story of entanglement and the human search for order.
The premise: someone sent everyone in the world a letter that revealed the name of their true love, but no one asks who sent the email. Instead, the characters’ focus is on what name is revealed in each person’s letter. Each letter exposes interesting fears such as what if the true love identified in the recipient’s letter is not the recipient’s mate?
This is a contemporary story told through the experiences of one family. Quantum physics-obsessed scientist Meg (Vanessa DeSilvio) has been abandoned by her boyfriend Sebastian, whom the audience never sees. After receiving his letter and learning his true love’s name, Sebastian left for Portugal to find her. Meg’s sister, actress/yoga teacher Sophia (Anastasia Muñoz) is married to David (Ivan Jasso). They have a daughter, Cassie, with special needs. Sophia is furious with David because he destroyed the letters upon receipt out of fear that their marriage might be destroyed by the revelations.
Meg and Sophia’s mother, Alicia (Gretchen Corbett) is trudging through the mire of guilt and mourning for her deceased husband Walter, and loving Teddy (Van Quattro) who also happens to be the true love revealed in her letter. This family of successful high-achievers is not particularly happy due in large part to the burdensome secrets each is carrying. How will each of them respond to the reveal in their letter?
Scenes are bracketed by comical televised breaking news announcements (screen projections) from Channel 11. Former Fort Worth councilman Joel Burns appears in cameo as anchorman Ralph Geneva, attempting to shed light on how the rest of the world is handling the revelation. For instance, an early segment has Ashlee Bashore as Channel 11’s street reporter Joan Price, who interviews new couple Mark Gentry (Winston Daniels) and James Cooper (Garret Storms), brought together by their letter—and exciting about new love. These well-done screen projections are programmed by Nate Davis, with cinematography and video editing by Turquoise Video Production.
The IKEAish modular set design by Bob Lavallee is minimalist with white furniture against a red-washed backdrop and sky side walls. There is movement in the set through its curvilinear lines and birds flying in seasonal formation. The birds are an artistic theme, appearing on greeting/note cards that are used as props and as scenic elements. This set is attractive, appealing and offers director Devine many staging patterns for the actors, and complements Brittny Mahan’s contemporary costumes.
Andrew Garvis’ clean lighting design is quietly dramatic, confidently supportive of the characters. One of the most effective instances is during a touching dialogue between Alicia and Teddy during which Alicia talks about her husband’s dying. That is a nicely written exchange, one of the best acting moments for Corbett and Quattro, framed beautifully by lighting. It is with this scene that Corbett, an LA actress known for decades of TV work (including a main role on The Rockford Files in the late 1970s) seems to find her footing.
This script can benefit from a little massaging here and there. The premise for the story is immediately engaging, even though it moves somewhat distractedly. The character Meg is bold, funny and just short of irritating, but in the hands of DeSilvio, Meg becomes if not entirely sympathetic, relatable. Quattro plays Teddy with honesty and simplicity.
Smart Pretty Funny raises interesting questions within an environment that is heavily framed through electronic communication and global access. That it is appearing at this time when our country and the world are grappling with the realities of technology and internet communications is a stroke of brilliance.
It is refreshing when a new play causes you to go hmmm and wonder “what if?”