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Theatre Review by Wendy Caster - April 11, 2023

Christine Farrell and Kea Trevett
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Elaine is committed to taking care of her mother, but it's far from easy. Ruth had a stroke, and she frequently has difficulty speaking, occasionally has difficulty moving around, and receives regular "visits" from her long-dead husband. Elaine tries to find caregivers, but Ruth is convinced that they steal from her, so she chases them away.

Elaine has a full-time job, and she decides to purchase a "Jenny" (think Alexa, Siri, etc.) to provide Ruth with at least some support and help. Minimally, the Jenny can control the lighting and temperature and provide Ruth with the music of her choice. Gabby is one of the programmers on the other side of the Jenny, and she spends much of her day monitoring what people ask and how well Jenny does at answering. Among the many voices that Gabby hears are those of Ruth and Elaine.

Mary Elizabeth Hamilton uses these situations in her play Smart, at Ensemble Studio Theatre through April 23rd, as the starting point of an intriguing exploration of love, family obligations, romance, and the role of technology in our practical and emotional lives.

The play is strong in terms of thoughtfulness, characterizations, parent-adult-child relationships, and plotting but weak in clarity. At first it seems that Gabby might be Elaine's ex-girlfriend. It is not clear until well into the show that Ruth has had a stroke, rather than perhaps having Alzheimer's disease. Most importantly, when Gabby and Elaine get involved, the steps of their relationship are insufficiently drawn and too quickly dealt with. Ultimately, however, Smart provides a well-spent 100 minutes or so in the theatre.

The performances–Christine Farrell as Ruth, Francesca Fernandez as Gabby, and Kea Trevett as Elaine–are quite good. When Elaine starts singing while doing the dishes, Trevett's voice is so beautiful that it's both a little disconcerting and completely wonderful.

Matt Dickson's direction might have provided more clarity, but works well in general. The set design by Yi-Hsuan (Ant) Ma and property design by Caitlyn Murphy are appropriately messy and haphazard but still quite pleasing. Costume designs by Megan E. Rutherford support and help define each character. The sound design (Josh Samuels) and lighting design (Colleen Doherty) are clear and effective.

Whatever its weaknesses, I am glad I saw Smart and will keep an eye out for future productions of Mary Elizabeth Hamilton's work.

Through April 23, 2023
Ensemble Studio Theatre, 545 W. 52nd Street (between 10th and 11th Avenue) New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: