Do You Feel Anger?
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Theater review by Raven Snook
Do You Feel Anger? provokes many emotions: amusement, sadness, terror, frustration. An absurdist comedy that cracks open to reveal oozing wounds, Mara Nelson-Greenberg's audacious Off Broadway debut tracks the efforts of empathy coach Sofia (Tiffany Villarin) to teach staffers at a debt-collection agency to be gentler, kinder and more understanding. But from the moment she meets the office’s douchebro boss, Jon (Greg Keller)—who thinks empathy is a type of bird—it's clear her job will not be easy: Her two male students, hot-tempered Howie (Justin Long) and unlovable loser Jordan (Ugo Chukwu), are prone to the kind of gross sexism that puts the id in idiocy.
The shocking things that Howie, Jordan and Jon say and do—and the jaw-dropping advice of their victimized coworker, Eva (Megan Hill), on how to manage them—are hilarious at first. But numbness sets in fast, which may be part of the point. Women put up with insensitivity and abuse every day, in large and small ways, to navigate what is still a man's world. Yet we keep coming back for more, because where else can we go? Nelson-Greenberg actually imagines such an else, but to say more would ruin the production's most powerful surprise, boldly realized by scenic designer Laura Jellinek (a specialist in coups de théâtre).
A great play seems buried within Do You Feel Anger?'s excesses, but Margot Bordelon, who directed the show's world premiere at the Humana Festival last year, hasn't quite figured out how to sustain the humor until the big narrative shift. The audience gets restless, and the men overplay their outrageousness to dwindling effect. But Villarin and especially Hill make you believe in the play’s dark world—a funhouse mirror that's less distorted than one might like to believe. Laughing at the juvenile antics of the jerks onstage makes you realize how complicit we are in perpetuating them.
Vineyard Theatre (Off Broadway). By Mara Nelson-Greenberg. Directed by Margot Bordelon. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.