Left to right: Lydia Lea Real, Morgan Carberry, Taylor Linekin and Alexandra Slade in "Bliss (or Emily Post is Dead!)" at Moxie Theatre. Karli Cardel Photography
The mere fact that Emily Post, were she alive, would be shocked as hell by Jami Brandli’s Bliss (or Emily Post is Dead!) is reason enough to revel in this dark comedy that pretends (unfortunately, with much staginess) to be a Greek tragedy. The truth is, this joint world premiere (with Moving Arts of Los Angeles and Prometheus Theatre of Chicago) produced by the ever-fearless Moxie Theatre company is likable and quite funny in spite of itself.
Playwright Brandli’s device of transplanting the personae of Greek heroines Clytemenstra, Medea, Antigone and Cassandra to North Orange, N.J. in 1960 is inventive and a laudable undertaking, and Brandli no question knows her mythology. But she evidently wasn’t content with this device alone. On top of the Greek heroines who inhabit four women (well, three women and one teenaged girl), each in her own way oppressed or subjugated by a man, Brandli’s script leans heavily on a “mother’s little helper” pill-popping subplot, which on its own would be an amusing but thoughtfully poignant commentary on women of the time (and today) who are treated badly, even abused, by men and who feel like they have no way out. But the combination of the heavy-handed mythology and the pills bit results in a swollen script that sometimes can’t get out of its own way, even with the always-stellar direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg.
The cast has fun with the material in any event, especially Lydia Lea Real as Maddy (nee Medea), who seeks and gets the show’s heartiest laughs. Morgan Carberry’s Clementine (Clytemenstra) exudes the most vulnerability, and Taylor Linekin, a student at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, does very well with the challenging teen role. The talented Alexandra Slade seems stifled in the part of the pronouncement-issuing, required-to-be-unemotional Cassandra. Meanwhile, Steve Froelich, the one male member of the cast, appears and reappears wearing practically nothing as the arrogant god Apollo – by way of Chippendales.
Deal with it, Emily Post.
Bliss (or Emily Post is Dead!) runs through Feb. 25.
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David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.