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What We're Seeing: “Unmarried Man: The Play”
“ A grand celebration of gendered television hilarity by a crack team of comics”
Photo by Marth Brown
Led by an all-female and non-binary–identifying creative team and crew, the new play “Unmarried Man” by Alice Nora and Emmy Kuperschmid is a grand celebration of gendered television hilarity by a crack team of comics. The play is a delicious deadpan delivery of a dish usually served cold or lukewarm at best; but in Nora and Kuperschmid’s hands the art of parody is as unlimited and piping hot as the Olive Garden breadsticks that steal the show (a *chef’s kiss* sponsorship and namedrop that I truly cannot stop laughing at #breadsticknation). And sure, "The Bachelor" is a pretty stale target for humor at this point in its (checks Wikipedia) twenty-six season run, but "Unmarried Man" does so many other things right that it justifies coming back for seconds.
Instead of polished glitz and glam, Nora and Kuperschmid’s story prizes hometown appeal perfect for diverse and non-male-centric theater casting and programming hungry for that vein of “WOMEN! WE SUPPORT WOMEN, SEE WE HAVE A PLAY ABOUT THEM!” that plagues our commercial sensibilities with Broadway slactivism (“POTUS”? “1776” anyone?), but more importantly it is a godsend for communities in need of female-heavy stories to– I don’t know just a thought– actually match their talent and audience pools. Artistic directors look no further, put down the Neil Simon, and propose “Unmarried Man.”
Far from coastal elitism or unrealistic beauty standards, the story centers on a local TV station presenting a one-night special where a hometown hunk (a priceless Patrick Dunning as Brody Chad) tries to find local love, and it's precisely in this myopic petri dish where the authenticity needed at the heart of successful parody stereotypes flourishes. Capturing the spirit and the pot-stirring styles of “The Bachelor” and its ilk in less than two hours is only part of”Unmarried Man”’s goals. It's quickly identifying what works about these character archetypes that does the heaviest lifting comedy-wise.
To pull this off, Nora and Kuperschmid count among their inspirations Amy Kaufman's book Bachelor Nation, the writing duo Kristen Wigg and Annie Mumolo, and Parks & Recreation. Curiously lacking is 2012’s celeb-stacked web-to-television show “Burning Love,” ripe with similarities in tropes, tones, and situations that pits the play a little too close to pre-existing sketch comedy gold for the mega-fans in-the-know.
For average audiences though, the play is a fast-paced farce that looks the antiquated narrative of gender roles, dating, and marriage in the eye and winks. A well-constructed satire, the writers and ensemble lean into the staged machinations of the source material in order to expertly excavate the absurdity and amusement. Whereas “The Bachelor” demands a particular kind of femininity that ensures survival in a world run by a man, in a delicious twist, our local TV station auteur here is an ambitious Suzanne Smythe, played with exuberance by Patricia M. Lawrence. Suzanne and her bumbling, shy assistant Candice (Emmy Kuperschmid writing herself in as the comedic straight (wo)man) wrangle a stellar ensemble of women who clearly work well together and play off each other’s electric comedic energy.
For the most part the stereotypes are witty and engaging: there’s the intellectual who is a hopeless romantic (a show-stealing Erin Long), the token ethnic contestant (a roaringly funny Nicole Abarca Powell), the musical one (triple-threat Ceara Ledwith delivers no-miss, side-splitting moments including “naur”), the lesbian (a subtle, totally rad Sophia Radix), the maneater (a poised and sharp performance by Jacqueline Keeley), and the Cowgirl (a humble, quirky Alice Nora). Just like in its source material, the girls form fast alliances or rivalries amongst each other while waiting to have their one shot at Prince Charming. Whereas “The Bachelor” relies on pitting the “good women,” defined by their passivity and commitment to real love on patriarchal terms, against the “bad girls” who seem to be in the game out of self-interest or who do not display the proper docility, “Unmarried Man” succeeds in painting each of the women unique, unashamed differences and dynamics (wow a man could never).
The play successfully ropes viewers into cringing at certain behaviors while applauding others, utilizing all-too-real dating scenarios, uproarious monologues, and snappy dialogues to inform meticulous satire. Director Ray Elizabeth knows the formulas, knows the emotional and literal angles to land the perfect punches in this rapid-fire 90 minute romp, and should be given a rose— sorry, breadstick– for this delightful, accomplished escapism. While the plot may not be all that surprising, the comedic timing of a stellar ensemble is the star of this show, delivering genuinely surprising hearty laughs for an all-around pure fun time.
“Unmarried Man: The Play”
Presented by The Peoples Improv Theater
Written by Alice Nora & Emmy Kuperschmid
Directed by Ray Elizabeth
Creative team features Stage Manager Gabrielle Piacentile, Lighting Designer Beanie Lawrence, Assistant Producer Caitlin Rae Diekoff, Publicist Lydia Snapper, Original Music by Samantha Caps, House Manager NaFis, and Key Art Design by Ilene Singer.
Cast features Patrick Dunning, Jacqueline Keeley, Emmy Kuperschmid, Patricia M. Lawrence, Ceara Ledwith, Erin Long, Alice Nora, Nicole Abarca Powell, Sophia Radix, Aliza Ciara, Orlando Davis, and Nina Rae.
Performances ran August 18-28, 2022 at The PIT Loft (154 W 29TH ST. NEW YORK, NY 10001). The performance runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
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