Theater review by Helen Shaw
The title of Susan Soon He Stanton’s hilarious, intricate new comedy doesn’t refer to anything in the play itself. Still, Today Is My Birthday is a gift. Most playwrights today get our phone-obsessed, zero-contact reality wrong, but Stanton nails it with a modernization of the epistolary play: Every scene is actually a phone conversation, a voice mail or—at its most ridiculous and painful—a butt dial.
Jennifer Ikeda plays Emily Chang, a recent returnee to Stanton’s home state of Hawaii. After a stalled New York writing career and a bitter heartbreak, Emily tries to reconnect with her parents (Ron Domingo and Emily Kuroda), who are going through a breakup of their own. Precisely observed behavior—her mother ends messages with “This is your mom!”—alternates with corkscrew absurdity; her friend Halima (the brilliant Nadine Malouf) has become “the craziest bitch I know,” and romance blossoms after Emily calls into a hyperamped morning-drive radio show. But real and unreal slide together in the weird distance inherent to miked phone conversations. (The superb sound design is by Palmer Hefferan.) Director Kip Fagan turns the New Ohio into a recording studio; Emily often stands in front of us while the others are walled off in booths behind glass. It’s a rollicking show—you’ll laugh and laugh—but it’s bitter underneath. In call after call, Emily reaches out and fails to touch anyone at all.
New Ohio Theatre (Off Broadway). By Susan Soon He Stanton. Directed by Kip Fagan. With Jennifer Ikeda. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission. Through Dec 23.
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