Using the classic device of a time machine, Debra Whitfield’s Tech Support allows a contemporary woman to travel back one hundred years and then to 1946 and 1978 to see what life was like for women back then. Unfortunately, the play is merely expositional telling us what an encyclopedia would reveal about each date, not doing any more with the idea.
On the other hand, the play’s use of the “tech support” theme, i.e. heroine Pamela Stark is overwhelmed by modern technology (cappuccino machine, printer, child proof bottles) is dropped fairly soon in the opening scene. What could have been a trenchant study of feminism over the years ends up a superficial romantic comedy with a not very believable ending.
While Pamela, a 40-year-old New York antique book seller on the verge of a divorce from her husband, is having trouble with her technological gadgets and getting nowhere with tech support, she finds she is transported back to 1919 where her building is a boarding house run by Charlie Blackwell, a disabled World War I vet whose wife has died in the Spanish Flu epidemic. There she meets Grace who is fighting for universal women’s suffrage (New York has already passed the bill) and Maisie who is in need of an abortion. She also meets Chip, a callow youth in his 20’s, who is in love with Maisie. A certain amount of confusion results from Pam’s 21st century view and scientific information (microwave, Lunesta, cell phone, Botox).
Before Pam gets to become comfortable in 1919, she is transported to 1946 where she meets Chip’s son, also called Chip, and discovers that Charlie has married Grace who has become a NYC councilwoman. His resenting her working has led them to the brink of a divorce. Chip, Jr. romances Pam, but before things can go very far she finds herself in 1978. Here she finds that Grace is now running for the Senate on an ERA platform (it is the weekend for the March for Equality) and a very bitter Chip, Jr., now in his 50’s, has gotten himself into serious trouble. When Pam finds herself back in her own time, she has a decision to make about what era she prefers to live in.
In each time period, Pam attempts to help someone but it is all handled very superficially as is the era’s advances in women’s rights. The historical data is simply used as a laundry list of items to be included, without any real investigation as to how much further feminism has to travel to make a real dent in society. A little more mileage is gotten out of Pam’s referring to technological advances that haven’t been invented yet but this is not as funny as it might be, getting no laughs. Considering the difference in ages, the rom-com theme is rather far-fetched and the ending does not solve any of the problems. Much of the work is done by Ed Matthew’s sound design where period songs help set the scene and also convey the time machine elements.
Directed by the author, the cast is a bit too busy dealing with the shifts in time to worry about their characters as we don’t learn much about them. Margot White’s Pam is mainly agitated by her two problems, tech and time travel, while Ryan Avalos as all the Chips remains pretty callow in each era. As Grace and others, Lauriel Friedman is the assertive, take-charge woman, though we never learn about her supposed accomplishments. Only Mark Lotito as Charlie in various time periods is allowed to age and progress over time. Leanne Cabrera as the timid Maisie in 1919 and later Lupé, a women’s libber in 1978, is superficially charming with the material she has been given.
The production team is more successful with recreating the various time periods. Natalie Taylor Hart’s scenic design for the four eras is suitable a with minimum of effort. The costume design by Janice O’Donnell brings each era to life capturing its specific elements of dress. She is aided greatly by Inga Thrasher’s period hair and make-up design. Elliott Forrest’s projection design with its historic footage is good as far as it goes but could have offered more to set the time periods. The bright lighting by Deborah Constantine is reminiscent of romantic comedies of the past.
Debra Whitfield’s Tech Support offers a clever idea in order to review feminism in the past century. Unfortunately, her rather superficial approach misses a great many opportunities. The romantic comedy aspect of the play is not entirely believable and works to the detriment of the play’s serious elements. The slick production is entertaining without ever delving below the surface even though it attempts to cover a great many important and serious issues, many of which are not yet solved today. Don’t blame the actors who do their best with the material they have been given.
Tech Support (through September 21, 2019)
Chatillion Stage Company
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59 Theaters
For tickets, call 646-892-7999 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission