Review: “Relentlessly Pleasant” at Theatre 54

 Photo: Maeghan Donohue

Photo: Maeghan Donohue

Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

The issue of sexual harassment is one that has come up and been discussed more and more frequently, especially in light of controversies surrounding notable public figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Brett Kavanaugh, and of course, the man who sits in the Oval Office. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that this topic is constantly being explored in new plays in 2018. Yet what hasn’t been explored as much is how far some individuals will go to defend the people they love when they are accused of such terrible crimes, even to the point of outright denial. However, in the latest outing from Jake Lipman and Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions, that’s exactly what audiences are treated to.

The story of Relentlessly Pleasant – written and directed by Ms. Lipman – takes place at “HER(E) SHE”, a new feminist co-working space similar to companies such as WeWork, except specifically designed for women. Early in the play, one employee faces sexual harassment at the hands of a male photographer who comes by the studio. The perpetrator, however, is none other than the husband one of the co-founders. As a result, the two co-founders are forced to come to grips with the choice of whether or not to ban the husband from the space, or whether to risk a lawsuit that would inevitably mean the end of the company.

Without a doubt, it’s a compelling, well-written play. It does a very fine job at exploring issues of sexual harassment, and what it means to be a feminist in 2018, on a very human level, and does so with an excellent balance of both light humor and potent drama. It starts off a bit slow, and there are some mildly unnecessary scenes – including a confusing dance sequence in the 2nd act – that could have been cut without hurting the plot. However, you forget about that by the time of the play’s emotional climax, where I admit to being personally torn between disdain for how someone could claim to be feminist while defending the horrific alleged actions of her husband, while also feeling sympathy for someone who must ultimately choose between her work and her family.

In addition to her writing, Ms. Lipman also succeeds in selecting a cast that does a superb job at bringing this emotional play to life. While all of them turn in fine performances, two particularly outstanding actors among this ensemble is Deanna Henson and Maria Maloney, who soar in the lead roles of co-founders Alison and Gina, respectively. Also helping capture the play’s modern atmosphere, in addition to the cast, is the projection screen in the background, delivering various quotes from notable people in history and pop culture, which also occasionally helps provide some of the more humorous moments in the play.

Over the past year, I’ve seen and reviewed a number of shows that have, to some degree or another, covered the topic of sexual assault and harassment, and this one easily stands out as one of the most wonderfully written plays focusing on this issue that I’ve had the chance to see. It’s no surprise to me that this show has gotten the audience reaction that it has. There are still a few more performances left this month, so if you have the chance to see this premiere, be sure to do so while you can.

“Relentlessly Pleasant” – presented by Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions – runs at Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios from October 10th-27th. For more information, please visit www.tictheater.com.