“We have free Ex-Lax after the show,” playwright Mike Fox announces cheerily during the intermission. He’s joking, of course. But the thought is appreciated, since never before has there been a play so much in need of an enema.
The Object of My Obsession is all object and no obsession. An obsession is a psychotic state in which the obsessed believes that his beloved will redeem his sterile and pathetic life. Boy Gets Girl is an obsession. Obsession is an obsession. The Object of My Obsession is the story of Warren’s (Ben Kingsland) unrequited love for Gretchen (Casey Keeler) who is, as we say, not that into him. It’s a story that’s repeated ten thousand times every night, in a thousand cities across America.
Or, really, it’s both less and more than that. It’s less because it’s unlikely that Warren actually loves Gretchen, whom he floods with his theories on classic rock but who he never asks about her small business or her MBA studies. It’s more because not only does Warren moon after Gretchen, but we are afflicted with the doomed love of Jamie (Charlene V. Smith) for John, a serial dater (David Robinson) and of Jessica (Ashley Hammond) for Ray (Baye Harrell), a serial bridegroom. The Maestro Coffee Shop, where they all work and play, apparently doubles as Heartbreak Hotel.
The acting is pretty wooden, which is easy to understand given the sogginess of the dialogue. “I didn’t know Goth girls drank coffee” Jamie snarls at a bewildered, lip-bestudded customer (Andrea McPherson). “He’s smitten like a kitten, as my wife, Helen, likes to say,” pronounces self-satisfied coffee-shop manager Stanley (Ted Ballard), apparently to distinguish from his wife Philomena, who is presumptively less familiar with smitten kittens. And Gretchen, having received Warren’s business card, proceeds to read it back to him, as though she fears that he has forgotten his own accomplishments.
She’s reading, incidentally, from a Metro Card, one of the technical side’s several fabulous faux pas. Another is to have a big bottle of Ex-Lax (looking suspiciously like Deer Park water) sitting on the counter for most of the first Act. Although it helps set up the Big Joke late in the Act (I bet you can’t guess what it is!) I imagine it doesn’t help to sell very many jumbo frappuccinos or those little coffee-house pizzas.
Writing awkward dialogue and small talk is an art. Writing a play which is 80% awkward dialogue and small talk is an atrocity. Eventually this gas giant of a play boils down to some pithy, new-agey observations from Stanley, the essence of which is that Warren should be himself. Had this advice come from the Dalai Lama, or Dr. Phil, or that Kung Fu guy Keith Carradine used to play it might have been more credible but coming from Stanley the Coffee Guy it just didn’t have that swing, if you know what I mean. Moreover, it was wrong: the last thing Warren needs to do is to be himself, since he appears mostly to be a whining doodoohead. He should learn to be better than himself.
Some nice instrumentals from a tight band (Carl Larsen, David Buskell, and Zach Ladd) periodically punctuate this mess; I looked forward to these interludes as a desert traveler looks forward to a cool oasis. Toward the end of the play Kingsland, who has a serviceable if underpowered voice, does a couple of pleasant numbers with them.
From his biography, playwright Fox appears to be working hard to improve his skills and raise his work product to a professional level. He should do the equivalent to this script. Until then, though, The Object of my Obsession will continue to be the locus of my objection.
- Running Time: 120 minutes, including one fifteen-minute intermission.
- Tickets: The Object of My Obsession
- Remaining Show: Sat, July 26 at 7:30
- Where: Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, 201 4th Street, SE