“Fuck you. Fuck your fuckity fuckity face … why did you fucking screw everything the fuck up? Everything the fuck up. Everything the fuck up, everything the fuck up?”
Not an unreasonable reaction when your boyfriend, who 366 days ago suddenly disappeared and who you and all your friends mourned as dead, turns up in good spirits and unapologetic on your doorstep telling you that you wouldn’t understand why he went away. To Wisconsin.
It’s the start of Ike Holter’s Sender, a 90-minute play full of ‘oh no they didn’t’ moments, dialogue that repeats, flies, drifts off and plays together like a free form, expletive-ridden, harmony-filled symphony. And oh yeah, it has some of the most astute and humorous insight into a generation’s resistance toward responsibility. There’s a reason Holter is a rising star not only in his native Chicago, but in New York Off Broadway circles as well.
You see Lynx (Jeremy Gee terrifically feigning cool nonchalance) didn’t leave town out of some emotional crises or run in with the law or because he’d found other love. He left because what he and his friends refer to as “adulting” just wasn’t something he could hack. Not that he ever comes right out and tells us that. Instead Holter allows Lynx to keep his reasons to himself. But just listen to him wax poetically about the freewheeling life in the forest he’s made for himself and watch how naively he thinks he can come back for just a short time to, I dunno, say hi to his friends. But we see through his charisma. We know this is a charming but selfish a man-child who would rather terribly hurt the people he cares about than grow the fuck up.
And hurt people he has. There’s his girlfriend Tess (Stephanie Wittels Wachs giving a superbly sarcastic, twitchy, messed up by life and her own vices performance) who never really got past the loss. Oh she says she mourned him, even went to rehab at one point, she says as she pours herself yet another tumbler of whisky before noon. But the mess that is her life and her apartment (the setting of the show, meticulously designed with neglected chicness by Steffan Azizi) can’t be be totally heaped on Lynx’s shoulders. Tess is a woman also fighting adulthood. She may have David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest on her bookshelf and a degree in art history, but dog walker is her chosen profession. Hey, it pays the rent she says, without ambition to achieve much more than that.
Jordan (Gabriel Regojo showing great depths of fear and vulnerability) perhaps has the worst of the hurt when it comes to losing his best friend Lynx. Get over it he tells everyone but mostly himself in a methinks the boy doth protest too much fashion. This is a man shaken to the core by the loss of his buddy/soulmate, the only one he believes both needed and wanted him. To help stuff the loss down, he’s done the opposite of Lynx and Tess, he’s run towards adulthood. Or so it seems. A telemarketing job at Groupon, married and a baby on the way, what could be more grown up than that? Only Jordan is more a child in his relationship than those who refuse to couple up. Not only is he a kept man, he’s told what to do and when. He claims to like it when his wife scares him with her toughness and barking rules,but we know better. Lurking underneath the jokes and the banter, he is a deer in the headlights not knowing which way to run but wanting to run far away nonetheless.
Only Jordan’s wife Cassandra (a tour de force performance by Candice D’Meza) can legitimately lay claim to holding any true responsibility. And she’ll be the first to remind you of it. Cassandra wears her adulthood like a haughty crown, leveling judgment, telling others what to do, using her money to get her way. She’s incensed that Lynx has come back to town, fearful he’ll take away her hold on Tess and Jordan, a hold she pounced on and put into place the minute Lynx was gone. For Cassandra, adulthood isn’t maturity or sagacity, it’s power. Still a child’s game, and hell if she’s going to get beaten in this playground.
Holter unleashes these four characters on each other, and we watch as they draw together like magnets and repel each other in fits and starts. The play works best when it’s one on one. The showdown between Casandra and Lynx throws fireworks at the audience. The bromance reunion moments between Lynx and Jordan is nothing short of poetry. As we laugh at their antics, our hearts strain wondering why we don’t have mates like that. Friends that get us so completely. They speak in a kind of guy talk rhythm, revving each other up, finishing each other’s thoughts and shouting out notions in tandem like the beloved chorus of your favorite song.
Music is an important component of the play and it’s here that Holter stumbles just a tad. These are Millennials we’re watching on stage. So why is a mixed CD central to the plot? Sure, it came from their youth, fair enough. But there is no convincing argument that will support kids this age feeling nostalgic about Steely Dan or Lenny Kravitz.
In fact it seems that rather than a show about Millennials, Holter has in some ways mashed up the ennui and resistance of Gen X into the mix. Yes, these characters have smart phones, but never or rarely use them. They drink and smoke cigarettes en masse like the generation before them, but not once do we see the Millennials’ vice of choice, the reliable joint. And yet the plot features fluid sexual boundaries that don’t conform to archaic heteronormative standards (the show warns of nudity and sexuality in the show for good reason).
Other than the (minimal) technology and the sex, there’s really not much that defines this show as Millennial angst. It could just as easily been a show about slacker Gen X-ers believing all the good stuff of adulthood was eaten up by their parents so why bother. And you know what – that’s just fine, because with a script and a cast like this it doesn’t really matter what modern generation you’re talking about.
Holter’s words, strung together like bad ass 3D paper dolls, are golden. Add in this dream cast, under the playful yet tightly choreographed direction of Josh Morrison and this show is an utter a joy to watch. No surprise really, we expect no less from this group.
Both Candice D’Meza and Gabriel Regojo are presently featured in the Houston Press Young Talent to Watch feature and Jeremy Gee was the 2017 Houston Theater Award winner for Best Supporting Actor. Stephanie Wittels Wachs, known to us as the executive director of Rec Room and now revealed to be an onstage force as well, more than holds her own in this talented company.
It’s dangerous business growing up. Mistakes are made, sacrifices enacted. It’s so much easier to just run away from it all, isn’t it? Holter shows us the temptation and the ramifications and Lynx finally learns to more or less accept his fate by the play’s end. Or he will, we posit. He’s been warned that coming back and facing the music isn’t going to be pretty. But then what important lesson in life is pretty? Funny, perhaps. But pretty? Rarely.
Sender continues through November 11 at Rec Room Arts, 100 Jackson. For tickets, call 713-344-1291 or visit recroomarts.org. $15 to $35.
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