Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes, a brand-new play going on now until March 29 at the Signature Theatre, pretends to be a lot of things that it’s not, such as funny. Or wise.
Or Jewish, for that matter. The promotional materials and Signature’s website refer to “a far-flung Jewish family,” but nowhere in this two-act dysfunctional group dramedy does Jewish culture or heritage make its presence known: not a single piece of art on the walls, not a single reference to the bat mitzvah of this or that character — despite there being plenty of both art and discussions of childhood. That’s a shame: The specificity of a religion could have given the chaos on stage more of a vocabulary, whereas, in its present form, it has to rely on New Age-y book store “get in touch with your female chakra” platitudes and not entirely level-headed sexual discussions.
A retired couple in Florida has their home invaded by three younger people going through crises: A daughter whose husband has kicked her out because she was unfaithful, a teenage niece with an unplanned (we imagine — not a lot of backstory on this one) pregnancy, and the boy next door, whose mother is in a clinic because his sister just killed herself. Hijinks ensue? Somehow? In the vein of everything from Crimes of the Heart to Little Miss Sunshine, all of these messes are supposed to jumble together and come out as some kind of warm sense of healing. But, as written by Dani Stoller, nothing much comes out of it at all.
Let’s pause on that title. This critic does not approve of calling women “easy,” even with a loving wink. Once we pass judgment on someone’s sex life (“even” someone who cheated on her husband with eight different men), we’re saying it’s ok to do so. Also, there’s like one smoking scene (thank goodness — at this distance, the reek of those herbals is even worse), and it’s early on. So, neither easy nor smoking. The cake is a lie!
Alone among the cast, Susan Rome finds moments she can save in a performance well calibrated for this intimate space. Less of an appropriate fit is the multi-room set, which had the audience at press night looking like they were following a tennis match. Debra Kim Sivigny’s costumes and lights from Andrew Cissna are far more pleasing, but hardly worth the price of admission on their own.
I saw eight D.C.-area plays in February. This certainly wasn’t the worst, but it was one of the more forgettable.
Signature’s last production, Gun & Powder, which was also a world premiere, was an incredibly rare thing: a good new musical. But the hunt for a good new comedy goes on.