Theatre Vertigo has never been a company to play it safe, and in that regard, their current production of John Patrick Shanley's incredibly mean-spirited Where's My Money? makes sense. It's a weird script—itchy with unhappiness, restless with dissatisfaction: kind of the opposite of a crowd-pleaser. All that's fine, but Shanley seems to consider being caustic an end in itself, and offers the audience little else. Vertigo hits the script's humorous bits hard, but the well-rounded ensemble doesn't quite manage to overcome the general unpleasantness of it all.
The show opens innocuously enough: Two old acquaintances run into each other at a coffee shop. Celeste (Kerry Silva Ryan) is a temp and an actress, living with her slacker boyfriend, having an affair and scraping by. Natalie (Buffie Rogers) is a success-focused accountant with a lawyer husband. Within moments, it becomes apparent that these two were never really friends. Celeste is self-absorbed and kind of silly; Natalie is cruel. Celeste tells Natalie about her affair; Natalie calls Celeste a whore. The ghost of Natalie's ex-boyfriend arrives at the coffee shop, demanding some money she owes him. The plot unspools into a convoluted little web, characters connected by coincidence and unhappiness, relationships tested and destroyed, money borrowed and debts repaid.
The show has lots of Big Themes: love, debt, betrayal, and guilt all couched in a style reminiscent of a sitcom, complete with a campy freeze-frame intro and downright cartoonish ghost sequences. Unfortunately, the TV aesthetic extends to the script: Where's My Money? is like an inverted sitcom, dishing out two-dimensional vitriol instead of two-dimensional humor. The show's meanness lacks nuance, and even the funny lines leave a bitter taste. (As a disenchanted divorce lawyer talking about his wife, Gary Norman gets a laugh out of the line, "She's a bag of shit and I have to hold my nose to fuck her.") It's just hard to see the point of it all—the script alludes to a variety of ideas, but it fails do anything interesting with them. If the world is, in fact, full of bitterness and unhappiness, Shanley's play does little more than contribute to it.