Many men get off while fantasizing about little women, but in Don Nguyen’s HELLO, FROM THE CHILDREN OF PLANET EARTH, William ejaculates while reading LITTLE WOMEN.
Yes, Louisa May Alcott’s 1869 novel does the trick for our thirty-something aerospace engineer. Doesn’t that sound strange or – more accurately – unbelievable?
And yet when Nguyen has William explain to us why he does – and can – we ultimately buy the explanation.
In this often entertaining comedy-drama that comes courtesy of The Playwrights Realm (and is ensconced at the Duke Theatre on 42nd Street), William (Jeffrey Omura) is asked to produce some sperm for Betsy (Kaaron Briscoe) and Shoshana (Dana Berger), two lesbian lovers who are intent on having a child.
Although Betsy has endured three miscarriages, she’s still the only hope the couple has; Shoshana is unable to conceive. Will fourth time be the charm? She’s already 37, and if there’s one thing every adult learns, it’s that time goes faster as the years go on.
For that matter, will William play ball with the couple? He has that career – and it’s a demanding one. Right now he and co-worker Freddy (Jon Hoche) are tracking Voyager I in space. Thus he fears that even as a surrogate parent he might get too involved and he won’t have time for work.
That’s understandable, but something else isn’t. Why would Betsy want William in the first place? She hasn’t seen him in 17 years, and, as played by Omura, he seems wimpy.
When asked if he works out, he responds with “I have a gym membership.” It’s a good line that doesn’t instill confidence.
More damaging is William’s speech in which he gives damn good reasons why he shouldn’t consider becoming a donor. Betsy sloughs them off much too readily. No – when people tell you they have problems, believe them. Haven’t we all learned that when would-be partners confess their shortcomings that these revelations shouldn’t be lightly dismissed? After all, these people know themselves better than we do.
Tension is to be expected when ol’ friends William and Betsy get together and Shoshana feels that she’s odd-woman-out. Berger does exceptionally well here in pretending that she’s an equal part of the team, assuming that if she plays it that way, the two will eventually see her that way. In the process, Berger almost conceals Shoshana’s worry that the history these two have will renew a bond that she’ll never crack.
Then Nguyen reminds us that Betsy and Shoshana are the couple and William is the outsider. One clever moment comes when Shoshana is doing a crossword puzzle and asks Betsy for answers; soon, though, it’s the uninvited William who comes up with the solution to 27-across.
Jade King Carroll maneuvers effectively through Nguyen’s many eccentricities. To wit: William and Freddy feel they communicate best while they’re defecating in adjoining bathroom stalls. (Don’t wait for them to wash their hands when they emerge.) They also have a spirited argument over the right and proper way to pronounce “Cheetos.” En route, Nguyen offers such grabbing-for-attention lines as “I’m sorry I shouted in your vagina.” Some of his perceptions land, such as the audience-pleasing “Why do people text when they’re only a block away?”
The most eccentric ingredient of all, however, is having a performer portray Voyager. The character’s name in the script is “The Farthest Explorer in the Universe,” but it’s actually the satellite that speaks to us.
She’s played with style by the lovely-voiced Olivia Oguma. Too bad her interludes come across as unnecessary interruptions. Aside from “Life on earth is the space between catastrophes,” no divertissement is particularly perceptive, illuminating or entertaining. After a while they stop – but for good reason: Voyager loses contact with the space center.
Now this is a pretty big event for NASA, wouldn’t you say? And yet never does a higher-up show up to talk to William and Freddy, give advice, chastise or see if anything has changed. Nguyen would have done better to allot that extra actor’s salary on a NASA executive than on a piece of space hardware.
Freddy is ostensibly there for comic relief, and it’s a relief when he’s not on stage dispensing his “comedy.” Nothing against Hoche, who’s playing what Nguyen gave him, but he comes across as a paler imitation of Cosmo Kramer. (And considering what Michael Richards has become, who needs to be reminded of him?)
When Berger and Briscoe each get to seriously speak their minds, both are up to the challenge. Briscoe also looks appealing in the orange, fuchsia and mustard outfit that Ari Fulton has designed for her.
Near the end of the 90-minute intermissionless work, we see that the word “heartbeat” spurred Nguyen to bring two very different worlds together. So despite the excesses, Nguyen emerges as a playwright to watch. Anyone who knows enough to save the best for last is one who might last.