Absurdist dark comedy meets the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in the Vineyard Theatre’s New York premiere of Mara Nelson-Greenberg’s Do You Feel Anger? Directed by Margot Bordelon, the biting send-up of workplace dynamics, gender disparity, and toxic masculinity delivers the laughs then packs a punch, with a powerful ending that brings home the importance of empathy and compassionate listening.
The laugh-out-loud sardonic story is set in a conference room at a debt collection agency, where Sofia has been hired to teach the employees how to be considerate and understanding of the people they contact for overdue payments. There she is faced with a case of “boys will be boys” taken to outlandish extremes, with no self-edit in their vulgar ‘jokes’ about women, no holds barred in their incessant sexual harassment, and no question of their preferential treatment by the male boss, in characters who are so out of touch with their feelings that real emotion has become an incomprehensible foreign language comprised of words they can’t understand, define, or pronounce, and massacre as badly as their failed attempts at French.
Nelson-Greenberg’s smart satirical writing, seemingly nonsensical dialogue, hilarious metaphors, and ridiculously exaggerated situations are filled with keen sociological and psychological insights that expose and deride an insidious culture of unapologetic misogyny and enabling tolerance, and culminate in a surreal scene of personal awareness (with unsettling lighting by Marie Yokoyama, eerie sound by Palmer Hefferan, and a dramatic shift in the set by Laura Jellinek). Bordelon’s pacing is fast and furious and the decibel level high, as the men, fueled by coffee and testosterone, empowerment and rage, question why they should be expected to change their whole worldview and “why someone else’s feelings should outweigh mine?,” leaving the women to deal with the male-dominated status quo in their own unsupported and ineffectual ways.
Tiffany Villarin stars as the serious behavioral coach, whose professional demeanor and style (in telling costumes by Emilio Sosa) slowly change as she becomes increasingly ingrained in office politics. Megan Hill turns in a high-voltage performance as Eva, yammering with equal amounts of ebullience and confusion, futilely complaining about being mugged repeatedly in the kitchen, requesting breaks from the training sessions, and escaping to the restroom, until she too undergoes a significant transformation. Portraying their male antagonists, Justin Long as Howie and Ugo Chukwu as Jordan capture the over-the-top chauvinism of their characters with believable impudence, uproariously delivering all of their inappropriate humor, excessive “horn,” and lack of humanity, and Greg Keller is equally risible as their biased boss Jon, who happily allows and partakes in their offensive sexist antics. Tom Aulino makes a sidesplitting appearance as an antiquated Old Man (130 years old, to be exact!), whose long lifetime of built-up anger compels him to threaten the office with a comically terrifying act of violence. Rounding out the terrific cast is Jeanne Sakata as Sofia’s mother, who plays a compelling role in the integral sub-plot of familial relationships that runs parallel to the central narrative and helps bring the show to its final resolution.
Do You Feel Anger? casts an acerbic eye on the continuing inequities between men and women and the absence of empathy in our present-day society, in a show that is as meaningful as it is outrageous. It will make you laugh and shake your head, while promulgating a timely message that rings loud and clear: #TimesUp.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without intermission.