Less a play than a rapid-fire acting exercise, “Application Pending” provides a lone actress with the opportunity to portray several dozen characters in the course of 90 minutes.
Go see the new production at the Unicorn not for the writing or the content but for Jennifer Mays’ exhausting performance(s).
Greg Edwards and Andy Sanberg’s comedy unfolds in the admissions office of a semi-posh Manhattan private elementary school. It’s the first day on the job for Christine (Mays), who overnight has been “promoted” from kindergarten teacher to admissions director.
She finds herself surrounded by stacks of manilla folders containing applications from public education-phobic New Yorkers desperate to place their preschoolers. And from the moment she enters the room, Christine’s desk phone is ringing incessantly.
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The gimmick of Edwards and Sandberg’s script is that the actress playing Christine must also portray — without costume changes — all those folks on the other end of the line: parents willing to lie, cajole, bribe and blackmail; abusive administrators; fellow teachers whose attitudes range from ditzy to sexually predatory; Christine’s snooty counterpart at a rival school, and a small army of everyday New Yorkers.
The challenge here is for one actress to come up with enough distinctive voices and bits of physical business (for Mays must briefly adopt each character’s physical characteristics as well) to let an audience differentiate between all these personalities.
For the most part Mays and her director, Ian R. Crawford, pull it off.
As one might guess, this is not a play that demands subtlety. Characters and comedy are painted with a very broad brush. At times Mays seems to be channeling characters from the movies: Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard,” Katharine Hepburn and Cruella DeVil.
There’s no downtime here. “Application Pending” is like a shark … if it stops it dies.
During the play’s compact running time, a score of “plots” emerge.
There are, of course, the machinations of various parents, who range from a Jewish stage mother to a Southern belle transplant to the Big Apple, the matriarch of the Russian mob, Park Avenue types and more financially challenged applicants.
One mother laments that she’s going to have to send her daughter to a Catholic school: “I should just molest her myself and get it over with.”
The headmaster’s secretary is a Native American who takes offense at words like “reservation” even when applied to restaurant seating. A perennially outraged PETA type rails against the use of a beaver as the school’s mascot. An official of another school works to undermine an upcoming meet-and-greet dinner with prospective parents.
On the private front Christine must juggle her crass Lothario of an ex, and their young son.
And then there’s the fate of Christine’s predecessor in admissions. The official line is that she has left to “pursue other opportunities,” but her true situation is reflected in a flood of calls from law enforcement agencies and the bong and Baggie of crack cocaine Christine discovers in the drawer of her new desk.
Lurking inside this maelstrom of activity is a kernel of social commentary about the widespread belief that a 5-year-old’s fate is determined by his or her acceptance to the right school.
One suspects that for some parents, “Application Pending” is less a comedy than an all-too-real horror story.
Read freelancer Robert W. Butler's movie reviews at ButlersCinemaScene.com.