Is there anything more terrible than being the single girl at everyone else’s engagement party? Probably — but not according to Engagements, a grim new comedy by Lucy Teitler, directed by Kimberly Senior and playing at Second Stage Uptown (the play premiered at the Barrington Stage Company in 2015). Teitler’s high-pitched satire on the conformity of upwardly mobile Bostonians offers amusements, but takes aim at such easy targets that the entertainment quickly wears thin.
Engagements unfolds at a series of identical soirees celebrating impending nuptials among the well-off Massachusetts set. Frenemies Lauren (Ana Nogueira) and Allison (Jennifer Kim) take turns sniping at each other’s accomplishments, attempting to snag elusive hors d’oeuvres, and anxiously chasing coupledom. For Lauren, an inexplicably bitter scholar of Victorian literature (Teitler seems to imply that sourness comes with the territory), this quest veers wildly off-course when she decides to meet Allison’s fiancé, Mark (Michael Stahl-David), for a tryst, sparking a series of romantic mishaps. As Allison revels joylessly in planning her own engagement bash, Lauren fends off Mark’s continued covert advances, while dating other men and complaining loudly about it all. Later, Lauren’s cousin (Brooke Weisman) and her boyfriend — a younger, less jaded couple — arrive for a visit, serving as a foil to the marriage-crazed adults and, after some fallout of their own, an echo of them.
We get it: Love is a battlefield. But such well-trodden territory demands a fresh approach, and Teitler flounders trying to mold this quirky satire into a theatrical event. Characters soliloquize self-consciously into a microphone, do the electric slide, and meander around the Astroturf set. Eventually, things turn weirder and darker: There’s a subplot involving sex toys, and the implication that Lauren might resort to violence to solve her problems. As the cousin and her boyfriend begin to take up more of the story — he’s an academic, like Lauren, and develops a fascination with her sexcapades — Teitler hints that it’s this smarter, less conformist couple she really cares about. But their stories remain underdeveloped, so it’s hard for us to care, too.
There’s a whiff of Heathers in Engagements‘ female rivalries and sardonic flirtations with violence, and the suggestion of political critique in its contempt for the boring, wealthy khaki-wearers of this world. But neither of these elements fully takes shape, leaving the guest at Teitler’s party wishing she could abscond with a few jalapeño poppers and leave.
By Lucy Teitler
Second Stage Uptown
Through August 20