After my first two shows back on the beat happened to be a pair of relatively light-hearted musicals, it was something of a relief to be taken on a deep dive back into the waters of moral and psychological complexity at Theatre Lab’s Overactive Letdown, a promising new play from the equally promising Miami playwright Gina Montet.
Director Margaret M. Ledford adeptly leads her cast through the play’s intense emotional landscape as this fast-moving piece tells the story of Christine and Mark, a couple who we meet shortly before Christine gives birth to their first child.
The charming, likable, and amiably sarcastic couple are clearly head over heels for one another and eagerly looking forward to starting a family. But a birth that doesn’t go as planned thanks to an emergency C-section is only the beginning of the troubles to come for Christine as her understandable anxiety about new motherhood edges into genuine paranoia and then into something even scarier.
The play maintains a sense of humor and intrigue as it wanders through these dark straits with its consistently witty dialogue and through the device of Christine’s Netflix-inspired hallucinations, which slowly turn from whimsical to harrowing as her mental state worsens.
Christine’s streaming services, after all, are her only real companion during the long hours that college professor Mark is away as he takes on the increased workload necessary for the couple to stay afloat financially. So, it’s only fitting that it’s characters inspired by her escapist hobby who guide her away from reality as we know it and into one dominated by her worst nightmares.
Alex Alvarez appears both alluring and sinister as the primary figure in these dark fantasies, and Masha McCain aptly differentiates her three supporting characters, imbuing each with a distinct persona and energy.
As Mark, Timothy Mark Davis conveys a fitting mixture of exasperation and concern as his wife’s condition worsens. Finally, Christine’s gripping struggle is given life by actress Lindsey Corey, who has by far the most difficult task of the ensemble and who transports us in full force into her character’s isolated hellscape, allowing us to maintain some sympathy for Christine even as her actions become unthinkable.
We can see that she is unable to fully understand what is happening to her, let alone to take any action to stop it—and, unfortunately, part of her tragedy is that no one around her recognizes the need to step in. Though everyone Christine encounters IRL rather than in her own head is obviously well-meaning, they still fail to adequately assess and respond to the desperation of her mental state, which ultimately has devastating consequences.
Though I noticed a few brief moments of inelegant exposition, the play remained engaging throughout, and gains great power in encouraging us to maintain hope for a happy resolution until matters pass a point of no return.
As far as the production’s technical aspects, all seemed to be in order besides one slightly confusing sound cue, with lighting, costumes, and set all playing a part in creating the ideal atmosphere for this chilling story to play out.
So, though you may emerge from Overactive Letdown quite shaken, you probably won’t feel as if you’ve been “let down” by Theatre Lab’s canny eye for intriguing new work or by this production, which plays until this April 10 in Boca Raton.
Interestingly, at the performance I attended, the play was followed by a talkback focusing on postpartum mental illness with the playwright and a local doula, which led me to reflect on the fact that Overactive Letdown is a play that communicates a relatively clear social message regarding increased awareness of its central issue that in no way overshadows its power as a dramatic work.
As I’ve also experimented with in my own writing, sometimes viscerally exploring a worst case scenario is the best way to drive home the high stakes of apathy, and thus to leave an impression strong enough to stand a chance at averting its real life analogs. Though how mighty the pen really is remains to be seen, those who spoke up at the talkback did speak of their intentions to pass on some of Overactive Letdown’s insights—which is, I suppose, at least a start.
Ilana Jael earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in Writing and Psychology from Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College. She also served as co-founder of the student theatre troupe “Theatre in the Raw.” She has been dabbling in both playwriting and acting since high school. A few favorite roles include Rebel in Columbinus (Bob Carter’s Actor’s Rep), The Fearful One in The Cave (G-Star School of The Arts), and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (Theatre In The Raw). Her one-act plays Goodbye, Karma’s A Bitch, Certainly Not About Him, and Open Heart have also been previously performed at Actor’s Rep and/or at Florida Atlantic University. More recently, Ilana appeared in and created the original musical ZeeZou’s Stardust Extravaganza with Area Stage’s Miami Queer Theatre Collective. Her short plays have been produced virtually by New City Players, Theatre Lab, and Femuscripts. She is also a current company member of New City Players, and you can check out her theatre blog at ilanaintheatreland.com!