When asked recently what he hoped audiences will get from watching Other Life Forms, playwright Brandon McCoy answered, “I hope they laugh, and I hope they have a really good time.” Mission accomplished! McCoy’s new work – a world premiere now at the Keegan Theatre — is a funny, adroit look at contemporary love brought to life by a quintet of terrific actors under the lively direction of Shirley Serotsky.
Scenes of online dating, one of contemporary society’s most awkward new rituals, open the play. A good many among the audience can likely relate. According to the Pew Research Center, over 15% of adult Americans admit to having used dating sites. It is estimated that by 2040, 70% of us will have met our significant other online.
Two couples, inexperienced in the protocols of such meet-ups, approach each other nervously over dinner at two different restaurants. Leslie and Jeff strike a unique agreement. To avoid the agony of a first date, they decide to pretend it is their third. The ice breaks and they settle into an animated talkfest.
Molly and Ben, however, repel each other from the first instant. Starting with brash talk about sex, the couple size up each other’s politics and eating habits. They launch a fusillade of raw, stereotypical accusations across the table – most of which, by the way, are totally hilarious. The laconic waiter Walter wanders by at intervals. He has seen it all, and proffers a practical solution when things between Molly and Ben get totally out of hand.
As it turns out, Jeff and Ben are roommates, and it is Jeff who has suggested that they both try online dating. Returning to their apartment after the evening’s shenanigans, the two men replay their disparate experiences. Ben, nearly dizzy with angry frustration, wonders aloud why Jeff seems to have all the luck. Jeff reveals the improbable source of his seeming advantage in life, setting in motion the not-so-coincidental coincidences that carry us through the second act.
McCoy takes big risks in structuring this play, and for the most part, they pay off. He powers Jeff through the fourth wall with great effect. Jeff’s comments to the audience are deliciously wry, encouraging us to reflect on the essence of our humanity. The playwright also challenges himself to maintain the play’s momentum in the second act, when the rapid-fire riffs give way to a more contemplative, though still comedic tone. He largely succeeds in bridging this divide, with the exception of a too-long and preachy café conversation between Ben and Leslie.
It takes a first-rate cast to navigate McCoy’s funny and poignant emotional landscape, and the Keegan actors are certainly up to the task. John Loughney is particularly nuanced as Jeff, convincing us variously of his deep humanity and otherworldly omniscience. Josh Sticklin plays Ben as a headstrong, hilarious maniac with a vulnerable core. The low-key Walter, ably played by Aidan Quartana, is a humorous counterpoint to Ben, urging his jumpy customer to chill. Brianna Letourneau is funny and winsome as Leslie. The character of Molly is not as fleshed out as the others, but Shanta Parasuraman does excellent, well-timed work in revealing how bad chemistry and hurtful stereotyping can instantly derail an encounter. All are aided by Amy MacDonald’s spot-on costume design.
Set designer Matthew J. Keenan’s clever revolving stage allows us to glimpse the two simultaneous blind dates, each taking place in similarly drab restaurants. His evocation of Ben and Jeff’s bland, banal apartment is right out of Seinfeld.
With its wacky and winning storyline, Other Life Forms forces us to believe again in love, accumulated wisdom, and second chances. By all means, add McCoy’s sparkling new comedy to your summer viewing “musts.”
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, including one intermission.
Other Life Forms plays through July 7, 2018, at The Keegan Theatre—1742 Church Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 265-3767, or purchase them online.