My first review of 2017 is of “a new play about God, rehab, and a fern.” So says the tagline for the World Premiere of Paul Shoulberg’s Synthesis at The Dorie, directed by Stan Zimmerman. Shoulberg has written a long one-act (running time just over an hour) that is swiftly and economically staged by Zimmerman on The Dorie’s compact stage. The playwright has created four complex, quirky, interesting and fully developed characters and presented them with some very human foibles and frailties. Unfortunately he falls into the trap of many young playwrights, thinking that yelling and profanity is the way to hold onto an audience. If he takes another pass at his script, he would be wise to tone down the volume and listen to the inner voices of the wonderful characters he has created and the talented quartet of actors vividly bring to life under Zimmerman’s insightful direction.
Shay (Anne Kathryn Parma) is first seen kneeling in front of a tiny fern, fervently asking for God’s help. Shay has a very troubled past. She is a heroin addict who shared her drug habit with her boyfriend until they conceived a child. They continued their drug use until the baby, a boy, was born three months premature and DOA. Shay herself almost died from the trauma and after waking up in a hospital room with no baby, no boyfriend, just a fern with no card, she has decided she has killed the second coming of Christ. And that is why she is dedicated to the fern’s survival.
Shay relates all this to her therapist, Lana (Maahra Hill), in her initial session. Shay is Lana’s first patient and Lana, besides writing copious notes, is not sure how to counsel her. Lana received her psychology degree online as a result of her husband’s badgering. But Lana’s heart is in a good place even if she lacks the proper technique.
Ready (Michael Minto) is a coke addict Shay met in rehab. He’ll be happy to tell you the genesis of his unusual name. Ready was in rehab for the third time and after clumsily trying to seduce Shay on her first day, they become friends and lovers, living together after getting out of rehab. They attempt to keep each other clean but you know how that usually ends. Ready is a bit peeved with Shay’s mission from God and he decides he’s now a new prophet, creating new biblical catch phrases from newly created books of the Bible.
In her quest to keep her fern alive and healthy, Shay signs up for a community college course taught by Prof. James (Clayton Farris), but his class is actually about mowing, not growing. As he becomes infatuated by Shay he Googles to learn about the care and nurturing of the fern and other plants that Shay has acquired. James is an alcoholic with a porn (actually erotic fiction) obsession, “just like every other community college professor” he declares when confronted by Lana.
The professor, the therapist, the stud prophet all converge on Shay and try to help and bend her to their way of thought. Plants are endangered, dirt is spilled, prayers are said, and hymns are sung before a final heavenly epiphany. There is a lot of good in Shoulberg’s play but the cacophony of vulgarity at times overwhelms the funny and astute observances of modern human behavior.
The Dorie, 6467 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Ends Jan. 29. http://synthesisplay.bpt.me/