What would you do if you received a mysterious letter revealing the one person in the world who is your soul mate? For one, you’d probably have an enormous amount of questions, beyond who or what sent it.
That goes double for seeing a play with such a plotline, as in Kathleen Culebro’s Smart Pretty Funny, having its world premiere at Amphibian Stage Productions, where Culebro is artistic director.
In the exposition we quickly learn that the aforementioned communiqué has been sent to every person on earth who is presumably of an age to understand relationships and love. They receive them regardless of whether they’re already married or partnered.
Everyone except scientist Meg (Vanessa DeSilvio), that is. Her significant other did and promptly took off to Portugal to find his assigned “one.” Her sister Sophia (Anastasia Muñoz) and brother-in-law David (Ivan Jasso) got theirs too, but decided it was probably smart not to open it. Meanwhile Meg and Sophia’s widowed mother, Alicia (Gretchen Corbett), is trying love again with new boyfriend Teddy (Van Quattro).
These relationships and the idea of “the one” give way to a series of scenes about what it all — destiny, love, atoms, matter, yadda yadda — means. Directed by Lisa Devine, these discussions all happen at the same dramatic tone, like the equivalent of listening to radio broadcasters with “NPR voice” for weeks without pause.
Same-sex soulmate assignments are briefly addressed in a clever series of newscasts with anchor Ralph Geneva (played by former Fort Worth councilman Joel Burns), but what about those who aren’t even close to discovering their orientation? How does it affect cultures where arranged marriages are the norm? Does this new knowledge result in a spike of police reports of stalkers, desperate to meet their person?
The thesis of the play is clear: to challenge, even ridicule, the notion that there is only one soul mate for each person. But that’s hard to buy into when inquiring minds have so much more they want to know.
Because of the otherworldly plot driver, there is an element of fantasy in the play (subtle magic effects by Scott Zenreich), but it’s not enough to make the premise any less ridiculous, even in suspension-of-disbelief mode.
The ensemble is strong and looks appropriately bourgeois (costumes by Brittny Mahan) on Bob Lavallee’s gorgeous set of contemporary home interiors serving as multiple locations, embellished with flying birds (doves? carrier pigeons?).
Corbett, whose long TV career includes a main character on The Rockford Files in the 1970s, playing James Garner’s character’s lawyer/lover, keeps the mother as complicated as the character we’re supposed to root for, Meg. In that role, DeSilvio lives up to the demands of a pragmatic woman who shouldn’t be the type to worry about soul mates or anything resembling “The Rules” of dating — until The Universe gives her the ultimate challenge on such matters. Muñoz has fun with the one character with goofy charm.
Playwrights, critics and drama-lovers are fond of praising plays that leave viewers with more questions than answers. But Smart Pretty Funny comes with such a need to ask myriad follow-up questions that it becomes more irritating than thought-provoking.