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Considering that the documentary popularizing the term premiered six years ago, it’s amazing there hasn’t been a play about catfishing until now. Playwright Jenny Rachel Weiner uses the phenomenon as the basis for Kingdom Come, a sweet if unconvincing romantic comedy that offers some surprising twists. Would that all stories involving falsifying online identities ended as happily as this play receiving its world premiere through the Roundabout Theatre Company’s developmental Underground program.
The central characters are Samantha (Carmen M. Herlihy) and Layne (Crystal Finn), two young women living in Carson City, Nevada, each of whom has a reason for pretending to be someone else on a dating website. Samantha is morbidly obese, mainly confined to her bed and attended to by her devoted healthcare aide Delores (Socorro Santiago). Pathologically insecure and anxiety-ridden Layne confesses that her biggest fear is “being forced to jump out of a window.”
Both women set up false profiles. Samantha pretends to be her former high school classmate Dominick (Alex Hernandez), Delores’ hunky son, a struggling actor living in Los Angeles. Layne, calling herself “Courtney,” uses pictures of her sexy, flighty co-worker (Stephanie Styles) and claims to be a “stewardess” who routinely flies to glamorous destinations such as Bali.
Their online relationship quickly turns sexual, with both women deeply attracted to the people seen in the other’s purloined pix. But it goes deeper than that, with the lonely women forging an intimate connection over such things as their shared love of the movie The American President.
The play touchingly depicts these two characters blossoming as they shed the constraints of their real identities. But the proceedings turn darker when Samantha figures out that her online soul mate has been deceiving her, and the distraught Layne impulsively treks to Los Angeles to apologize to “Dominick” in person. The ensuing plot convolutions strain credibility, resembling the sort of contrivances found in a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie.
Still, the play is at times both funny and affecting, thanks to the sensitively drawn central figures. The characters are beautifully played by Herlihy and Finn, who convey these women’s underlying emotional strengths as well as their vulnerabilities. That the real love story on display doesn’t involve the typical boy-meets-girl scenario — although there’s some of that, too — is a testament to the playwright’s inventiveness.
Director Kip Fagan’s modest production in the tiny Underground space makes effective use of projections to illustrate the fake profiles, as well as the characters’ extensive text messaging.
Venue: Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, New York
Cast: Carmen M. Herlihy, Soccoro Santiago, Crystal Finn, Stephanie Styles, Alex Hernandez
Playwright: Jenny Rachel Weiner
Director: Kip Fagan
Set designer: Arnulfo Maldonad
Costume designer: Tilly Grimes
Lighting designer: Thom Weaver
Sound designer: Daniel Perelstein
Projection designer: Darrel Maloney
Presented by Roundabout Theatre Company
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