'Rx': Perfect prescription for off-Broadway play

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We've all had the sort of soul-sapping jobs that make each minute feel like an eternity.

In the delightful "Rx," which opened Tuesday night, Feb. 7, at Primary Stages, 59E59 Theater A, Meena Pierotti (Marin Hinkle, "Two and a Half Men," "Electra") is a managing editor of American Cattle and Swine magazine. She wanted to be a poet and wound up editing stories about pig farmers.

As it happens, when I still harbored delusions about poetry and was a senior in college, I too had a job, or rather an internship, at trade magazines. I so felt Meena's pain. Truly, nothing makes time stand still longer than writing a story about corrugated boxes for Food and Drug Packaging unless, of course, you are proofreading Glass Monthly.

Meena is so miserable that she decides to enter a trial for a new drug, one that combats workplace depression. When Dr. Phil Gray (Stephen Kunken, "Frost/Nixon," "The Good Wife") has his first interview with her, he asks questions designed to gauge whether she is depressed from work, and if she would be a candidate for the trial.

"It's not a personal failing," he says. "It's a real disease -- we hope."

The drug is ingenious and if some pharmaceutical company is not working on it, this may very well spur R&D.

The drug, temporarily called SP925, is aimed at those who are unhappy at work. It's also aimed at those making more than $65,000 a year and have health insurance, and once it passes the clinical trials and the FDA approves it, this could rake in billions.

Meena desperately wants to be happier. She and Phil become acquainted during her appointments and they fall in love. Of course, falling in love with a patient in a clinical trial is completely out of the paradigm, against all ethics and -- far worse in the ridiculous and stifling culture of the pharmaceutical company -- against company policy.

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For 100 minutes, with no intermission, playwright Kate Fodor does a splendid job. The story is believable, set up and paced perfectly, the dialog is smart and blessedly has a beginning, middle and end. Off-Broadway can be experimental, and there should be room for that, but it so refreshing to see a new play and have it work flawlessly.

The set is a clever use of four doors, a desk, a Murphy bed, an examining table, a couple of chairs and the funniest prop -- a rack that descends from the rafters, holding seven poles with old-fashioned ladies' panties. We are talking bloomers here, the sort of substantial underpants that if dipped in metal would make an excellent chastity belt.

The underwear is supposed to be in a department store, and it's where Meena heads to cry. She can't weep in the office; that would be unprofessional. It is there she meets Frances (Marylouise Burke,"30 Rock," "Into the Woods"), who realizes she has not done enough in her life. Though the men are quite good in this play, the women have the funnier, flashier parts, and Burke is a gem.

Allison (Elizabeth Rich, "Oblivion," "Law & Order"), a corporate shark, has the funniest lines and the messiest meltdown. She introduces herself as "Allison Hardy, MBA," and has the sort of self-importance that festers in companies where filling out forms takes priority over actually doing anything.

Ultimately, this is a love story, but it is also a story of loss and gain, of the cynicism of large pharmaceutical companies, all told quite neatly. Hinkle is terrific as the vulnerable Meena. For everyone who has ever felt her soul dripping onto a desk or was convinced it was at least 5 p.m. when it was not yet 9:30 a.m., "Rx" will ring very true.
Photo/Video credit: James Leynse
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