Bianco plays a former kindergarten teacher at the tony Edgely Preparatory Academy in Manhattan who has just been promoted to Director of Pre-Primary Admission on the day that applications for the next term are due. Her predecessor has left to “pursue other opportunities,” i.e. she has been fired for cause. Totally unprepared for her new job, Bianco as Christine has to field phone calls from entitled society parents wanting special treatment, questions about application requirements, inquiries about financial aid, her demanding boss Dr. Bradshaw worried about an impending p.r. disaster, obnoxious teaching colleagues, the caterers for tonight’s Prospective Parents Banquet at the Metropolitan Club which she knew nothing about, and all while she worries about fulfilling her promise as a single parent to her son Devin to take him to Pumpkins in Park that evening.
Application Pending allows Bianco to display her dazzling virtuosity at the over three dozen recognizable voices. Not only does she change voices at a breakneck speed, she makes the characters so different that the second time we hear one of the callers we know exactly who it is. They range from young (her school-age son Devin) to friendly adults to over-the-top eccentrics, venders, educators, friends – and irate parents. Among the most memorable are the snooty Pamela Upton Drinkwater demanding an early admission for her adopted son from Ethopia; spiteful Vera Vandercooché, her opposite number at the rival Buckington Academy; Buddy O’Reilly, the soft-spoken single father in need of financial assistance; Shoshana Feigenbaum, the pushy mother whose son has starred in musicals at synagogues all up and down the east coast and who refuses to take no for an answer; colleague Jennica who has no business being a teacher; and the headmaster from hell, Dr. Lawrence Bradshaw.
The problem with the play that Bianco almost overcomes is that it is basically a one-joke plot which is funny for a while and then gets tedious. Co-writers Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg who also wrote last season’s comedy, Craving for Travel, kept that similar play from being too much of a good thing by having two actors who alternated on the phone as well as exploring their personal life together. While there are a few hilarious lines, most of the comedy is very mild, the characters stereotypes, and much of it becomes predictable after a while as the gimmicks repeat themselves. At 75 minutes, the play seems much too long – like a comedy skit stretched to the breaking point. A big event in the middle of the evening and a short intermission might have made the play seems less like an extended skit and more like a dramatic event. Sandberg proves himself to be a far more inventive director than playwright.
The lighting design by Jeff Croiter also undermines Bianco’s remarkable performance. Croiter changes the color of the lighting for every single one of the 100’s of phone calls. Not only is this distracting, but you find yourself thinking how many colors there might be and are the colors keyed to the specific callers, all of which distract from paying attention to the plot and the characters. More successful is the sound design by Bart Fasbender which includes school and street noises in addition to the background sounds on the phone calls. The single costume by Michael McDonald’s for Christine’s first day on the new job is spot-on for an elementary school employee. Colin McGurk’s office setting attempts to suggest an elementary school with several children’s toys in various places with partial visual success.
A very thin comedy, Application Pending is raised to a higher level by the brilliant mimicry of its star Christina Bianco. While the satire occasionally registers big time, it is Bianco’s performance which is the real justification for this show.
Application Pending (through April 19, 2015)
Westside Theatre, Downstairs Theatre, 407 W. 43rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.westsidetheatre.com
Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission