Tuesday, February 10, 2015

152 (2014-2015): Review of APPLICATION PENDING (February 6, 2015)

"Application Approved"

Proof that the Internet can help rocket someone to stardom can be found in the career of Christine Bianco, a petite actress-singer-impressionist whose YouTube videos often show her rapidly transforming from one famous diva to another. Go ahead, Google her! (She's also performed in FORBIDDEN BROADWAY.) Her notable gift for chameleonlike characterizations is the impetus for APPLICATION PENDING, an 80-minute, one-woman farce by Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg, directed by Mr. Sandberg, in which she plays all of the 40 or so characters, male and female, old and young (including children), and almost all of them non-singing.
Christina Bianco. Photo: Joan Marcus.
APPLICATION PENDING, at the Westside Theatre (Downstairs), satirizes the crazy desperation of parents trying to get their kids into a kindergarten at Edgely Preparatory Academy, an exclusive private school in Manhattan. The play is set in a well-appointed office (nicely designed by Colin McGurk and lit by Jeff Croiter), where it’s the first day on the job for the new pre-primary admissions officer, Christine, a sweet young divorcĂ©e with a little boy of her own, a Catholic parochial school pre-K student. 
Christina Bianco. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Soon, the phones (the one in the office and Christine’s cell) are ringing off the hook as one parent after the other calls to persuade Christine to accept their child, using a succession of nutty ruses, and even engaging in warlike strategies against other parents. Meanwhile, Christine has to deal with the Mother Superior at her son’s school, Edgely’s sports coach, a government investigator, her creep of an ex-husband, a snotty rival admissions officer at another school, two gay fathers with a kid named Sutton Lupone Garcia, and a host of others. One is the cruelly demanding headmaster, Mr. Bradshaw, who insists—despite Christine’s other responsibilities and her plea that she needs to spend the time with her son—that she be responsible for a big school banquet that evening and who threatens to fire her if she doesn’t come through.

Anyone in their right mind, no matter how needy, would quickly have told her employer to take this job and shove it, but Christine—who really wants to be a kindergarten teacher—bravely soldiers on, doing her best to satisfy everyone’s demands, remaining pleasantly accommodating regardless of the rising tide of insanity in which she’s struggling to swim. Ultimately, of course, the worm turns, and the plot finds reasons to allow her to go from victim to victor and give her tormentors the shaft they all richly deserve.
Christina Bianco. Photo: Joan Marcus.
APPLICATION PENDING is basically an excuse for Ms. Bianco to demonstrate her extreme versatility as she makes lightning fast transitions, usually during phone conversations between Christine and whoever she’s talking to, morphing instantaneously into Southern belles, macho dudes, Jewish housewives, snooty one percenters, good old boy politicians, haughty nuns, smarmy bureaucrats, ditzy dames, and even George Clooney. Each is clearly defined, not only by vocal tone, rhythm, and accent, but by physical alterations in the way Ms. Bianco holds her head, changes her position, gestures, stands or sits, or otherwise changes her behavior. The characters, of course, are all broad cartoons, just as the play itself is little more than an extended but quite meaty“Saturday Night Live” sketch..

Some of it is truly comical, and the preview audience laughed frequently and even raucously at many points. One of the funniest characters is Edgeley’s self-described Native American administrator, a politically correct fanatic who bridles at every word Christine speaks that might somehow be considered ethnically offensive, such as “warpath” or even “chief.” A comment she delivers about “heritage enriched” kids made me blow a laugh gasket; otherwise, while the show is consistently amusing and often chuckle-worthy, the phone business begins to get repetitive and there are a few laugh-starved stretches. Nonetheless, it cracked this hard nut frequently enough to rate it one of the funniest pieces of the season.

Christine Bianco’s ability to juggles multiple plot balls in the air as she shifts effortlessly from role to role, using her phones and other props with split second timing, is a tour de force that will certainly lead to even wider attention. Her material in APPLICATION PENDING may not be for the ages, but it would be tough to find someone else who could make it work as well. Decision on applicant Christine Bianco: Application Approved.

Westside Theatre (Downstairs)
407 West 43rd Street, NYC
Open run