The first thing you need to know about Stephen Brown’s new play, Everything is Super Great, is that the title is facetious. In fact, nearly everything is pretty awful for the four disconnected characters that populate this “comedy about what’s missing.”
For each of them has a void in his life, a missing person or a stunted relationship that keeps his or her existence from gaining traction. To the outward observer, this would seem to be a recipe for gloom, yet Brown manages to find the humor in their collective adversity.
Developed by Florida Atlantic University’s Theatre Lab in its new play festival and in subsequent workshops, the potentially inert script is helped considerably by the imaginative staging by Matt Stabile, the company’s artistic director. Now on view in a world premiere production in Parliament Hall, the work is simultaneously being unveiled in New York in a separate off-Broadway staging by New Light Theater Project and Stable Cable Lab Co.
At its center is an aimless 19-year-old slacker named Tommy, a lonely computer geek who ekes out a living as a Starbucks barista trainee. Details of his life spill out gradually, so it takes a while for us to learn that the older brother he idolizes has gone mysteriously missing and that Tommy lost a previous job at Applebee’s because he happened to burn the place down.
So when he is not holed up in his bedroom, Tommy can be found in the employee break room at Starbucks. There he tries to connect with Alice, his supervisor although they are the same age. Harried Alice has her own problems. Her mother is suffering from dementia and she goes wandering away, much to Alice’s distress.
Then there’s Tommy’s Walmart employee mom Anne, a single parent ever since her husband walked out on her. So she tries to hold on tight to Tommy, which only manages to drive him away. Anne arranges to have a Walmart colleague, Dave, who has an MFA in music therapy, take on Tommy as a patient, his very first as it turns out. Cue the inept therapist humor. Oh, and Dave keeps losing his (possibly imaginary) girlfriend, for reasons that are all too understandable the more we get to know Dave.
Playwright Brown does have a knack for writing comedy and for creating quirky characters. But structure is not his strong suit and, over time, we sense a lack of focus to his tales of woe. Without any discernible forward progress, Everything is Super Great seems longer than it actually is.
Director Stabile has some nice staging tricks up his sleeves, however. For instance, several scenes play out on video screens. And with one screen per character, the theme of human disconnection has a visual emphasis. Scenic designer Michael McClain has his own symbolic representation of the play’s message – two rows of numbered doors through which life’s surprises emerge.
Drawing on the human resources of the university, Stabile casts two current MFA candidates – Christian Mouisset and Rachel Michelle Bryant – as fuzzy-headed Tommy and stressed-out Alice, both more than up to their assignments. They are supported by a couple of area stage veterans, the always welcome Jeni Hacker as Tommy’s perpetually fogged-in mom, and Timothy Mark Davis, producing artistic director of Fort Lauderdale’s New City Players, as bumbling Dave. If these four actors often seem to be occupying different plays, that too may be intentional on the part of the writer and the director.
Calling it “super great” may be overstating the quality of this new script, which feels like it could use one more draft to clarify its intent. But there is plenty of evidence here that Brown is a writer of considerable promise.
EVERYTHING IS SUPER GREAT, Florida Atlantic University Theatre Lab, Parliament Hall, FAU Campus, 777 Glades Rd., Boca Raton. Through Sunday, Dec. 22. $32- $40. Call 561-297-6124.