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Theater Review: CATCO’s Vibrant and Charming ‘Application Pending’

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theater Review: CATCO’s  Vibrant and Charming ‘Application Pending’Photos provided by CATCO
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CATCO kicks off 2020 with a dazzling high-wire act: a fast, fun production of Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg’s Off-Broadway hit Application Pending directed by Steven C. Anderson.

Application Pending features Christine Evans (Vanessa Sawson) on the first day she’s plucked from her life as a kindergarten classroom assistant and thrown to the wolves – desperate, entitled parents – as the front line of admissions for a snooty Manhattan K-8 private school.

The plot and jokes in Application Pending fall somewhere between borscht belt and mid-range network sitcom, with just enough heart, soul and specificity to stand up. What makes this material into a gleeful, engaging night of entertainment is the explosive, perfectly-calibrated performance of Sawson.

Sawson – alone on stage – performs the voices of each caller along with Christine, reacting to herself in real-time and making us believe, many times throughout the piece’s breakneck 75 minutes, that we’re hearing different characters. Her reactions, to herself, seem spontaneous and real, there’s never a perceptible switching of gears.

More than that, Sawson, while revealing only the barest minimum of her character’s back-story, forces us to like her. The sold-out opening night audience I saw this with gasped when things didn’t go right for Christine and hissed at the evil machinations of the other characters we only saw in the slightest fragments. Even the choice of changing body language for some calls and not for others delineated the different power dynamics of the characters’ calling in a subtle, reverberating way. It’s a jaw-dropping, virtuosic, comedic thrill ride. 

That thrill ride runs smoothly with Anderson’s direction, including some of the best use of the Riffe Center’s intimate Studio Three I can remember. The physicality and use of the strong Michael Brewer set keeps the audience’s attention. Brendan Michna’s lighting, in various shades of drama that all still feel like that sickly office light provides some needed contrast and hilarious underlining.

There isn’t much new in Application Pending, but it’ll be a long time before you see this kind of play done anywhere near this well.

Application Pending runs through February 16 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:00 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit catco.org.

All photos provided by CATCO

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