Mather Zickel and Kat Fairaway in “Who You See Here.” —MJ Bruder Munafo
Before a single word of dialogue is spoken in the new comedy “Who You See Here,” currently playing at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, audience members will know that they’re about to witness something fun and fast-paced. As the lights go down, the four actors are all seen silently engaging in various activities, the colorful set — full of moving pieces and graphic elements — provides great visuals and the upbeat retro-style music that bridges each scene change is very catchy.
And this first impression does not disappoint. “Who You See Here” by Emmy-winning writer Matt Hoverman is a smart, witty, and very funny play that draws its humor from human foibles, modern life, and celebrity gossip culture. A series of coincidences along the way and a blow out of a finale give the play some elements of a farce, but it’s really in the one-liners, delivered with perfect timing by a terrific cast of four, that make this two-act play shine.
Playwright Matt Hoverman has had two of his plays, including “Who You See Here,” optioned for Broadway. He has written a number of comedies that have been produced at theaters in New York City and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Drama Desk Award and his play, “The Glint,” was produced as a reading on Broadway with a cast including Beau Bridges, Jean Smart, Michael McKean, and Cecily Strong. Mr. Hoverman lives in Los Angeles, where he works as a kids’ TV writer. In 2014 he was awarded a Daytime Emmy for his work on PBS’ “Arthur.”
The play’s title comes from an Alcoholics Anonymous expression “Who you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here.” However, this admonition to anonymity is ignored by the couple at the heart of the play when a movie star Tom Spec turns up at an AA meeting in the small town the couple has retreated to from the city.
Although there are plenty of allusions to AA by a playwright who would seem to have more than a passing familiarity with the 12-step program, this comedy is not an addiction play by any means. You don’t need to have any first — or secondhand — knowledge of AA to appreciate the premise and the humor. The language of AA is dropped into conversation, but the slogans and 12 steps are treated respectfully, albeit with humor, by the playwright.
Primarily the twists and turns of this quickly moving comedy come from the protagonists’ attempts to try to disavow any interest in celebrities and gossip while going to great lengths to inject themselves competitively into the Tom Cruise-type actor’s life.
As Tom Speck, LA actor Mather Zickel perfectly exemplifies the needy, narcissistic star who has a tendency to turn on the tears as quickly as any method actor. Mr. Zickel has extensive experience in TV, films, and theater and, it would seem, has had plenty of opportunities to conduct firsthand research into his egomaniac character.
Russell Soder and Angela Goethals, who play the couple at the heart of the story, are real-life husband and wife who recently relocated with their two kids from NYC to Martha’s Vineyard. They both continue to travel around the country for acting jobs. This show represents their first appearance in a Vineyard production.
Ms. Goethals, who plays a therapist with more than a few issues of her own, does a great job in winning the audience’s sympathies, despite her flaws. Ms. Goethals has appeared on and off Broadway and in countless films and television shows. Most recently she played opposite Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.
Mr. Soder also has a good deal of experience in theater and TV. In “Who You See Here,” he plays a failed stand-up comic who (as becomes obvious when he occasionally demonstrates some of his former material) is forced to shop around for another career. Both Mr. Soder and Ms. Goethals prove their prowess for comedy and make a completely believable liberal, millennial couple.
At one point Ms. Goethals’ character talks about the advantages of small town living, where one can enjoy “the soothing sounds of NPR.” There are many other references that urban transplants or part-timers can relate to. Mr. Soder’s character, in his job doing layout for the local paper, has to dump an important obituary to make room for a story about a firemen’s breakfast. His slacker character clearly hasn’t found the perfect career fit when he has to confess that he’s discovered that “deadlines aren’t suggestions.”
As an unhinged young mental patient, theater newcomer Kat Fairaway finds the perfect balance between giddy groupie and psycho stalker.
The play is helmed by Jeanie Hackett, who most recently directed the production of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” that Ms. Goethals appeared in. She has a very impressive directing resume and, as an actor, has starred on Broadway. She does a fantastic job of keeping the action going and using the small stage very effectively. Ms. Hackett clearly has a way with comedy, and also great taste in music. The bouncy tunes played during scene changes add to the fun.
The set, designed by Lisa Pegnato, deserves special mention. A moving multi-sided column is used very effectively to change the setting. Screens on either side allow the actors to perform bits that look like projections. There are loads of interesting graphics in the backdrops and set pieces that set the tone beautifully. Without giving anything away, the sound and lighting designer manage to create a spectacular event toward the end of the play with minimal staging.
All in all, “Who You See Here” is perfect summer theater. Fun, funny, great professional acting and directing. It’s a must see. Playing now through September 2.