The English language is an ever evolving thing and it is Merriam Webster’s Dictionary job to help that language evolve for the modern person. But what happens when they get something wrong? Or what happens if they don’t explain something clearly enough that it creates a gap that causes them to get into their own verbal trap as it may?
That is the premise in which Webster’s Bitch begins, directed by Vanessa Morosco and running through June 18 at Playhouse on Park at 244 Park Road in West Hartford, Connecticut.
It’s late Thursday afternoon and lexicographers Gwen, played by Mia Wurgaft, and Nick, played by HanJie Chow, are finishing up their assignments for the day when Gwen’s overly obnoxious sister, Ellie, played by Isabel Monk Cade, comes in. After a lengthy intro of Ellie disrupting the work environment, she discovers that Gwen and Nick’s boss, Frank, played by Peter Simon Hilton has called their supervisor, Joyce, played by Veanne Cox, a bitch on a hot mic at a seminar at Yale.
Things get more complicated when it is discovered after some audio cleanup that he didn’t call her a bitch, but said that she was his bitch.
The series of events leads to debates as to what the word “bitch” means and debates on the offensiveness of the word. For example, Nick, who is gay, notes that the gay community uses the word sometimes as an ironic term of endearment. Meanwhile, Gwen and Ellie argue that the word is a prejudicial and sexist term against women. When looking it up in their own dictionary, they discover that Nick was the one who last edited the definition of the word, including one that says it can be any woman.
The drama escalates as Joyce comes to the office and she attempts to rectify the situation, including revisiting the definition of the word bitch. They then notice that the definition of bitch used as my bitch isn’t in the dictionary and they need to have sources to define my bitch.
Later, Frank arrives and the drama peaks with a glaring debate between him and Joyce on women’s equality in the workplace.
Webster’s Bitch is definitely a message play, looking to evoke emotional responses from the audience regarding women’s rights, equal pay, sexism, and the use of prejudicial language in general. In all this, I think Bricher succeeds in making her arguments.
As powerful as the conflict is between all the characters, there is very little development in the characters. They are all staunchly set in their points of view and beliefs and are inflexible in their positions. The closest move we get is with Gwen, who is fairly naive, and learns a bit of life lessons on the unscrupulous nature of adults who will do anything they can do to maintain the power positions they have.
This rigidness with the characters makes the performances feel a tad one-note at times. Particularly with Veanne Cox, who has a very stern persona and doesn’t break out of it. I get it, she’s a woman working in a male led environment for decades and she has built up these walls around her as her defense mechanism, but I would have liked to have seen her break through that somehow. The scene stealer though is Isabel Monk Cade, who, though an obscenely obnoxious role makes it entertaining with her zany over the top antics, disrupting the workspace.
Johann Fitzpatrick has really found a place of comfort with designing sets at Playhouse on Park and Webster’s Bitch isn’t any different as he has designed a great looking aging office space with cardboard boxes stacked throughout, kind of reminiscent of a newsroom bullpen. His lighting also hits perfectly with the overhead fluorescents washing the space with light, but texturing it enough that it doesn’t wash out the faces of the actors.
For a regional premiere, Webster’s Bitch isn’t bad. I like the premise. The characters are all unique and defined. I just wish they developed more. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Webster’s Bitch does have a lot of strong language and bitch is on the lower end of profane words used in the show. So, if you have a sensitivity to profanity, this may not be the show for you.