Let’s just get the mystery out of the way – Meg’s New Friend is black.
But really, in The Production Company’s latest play, written by Blair Singer and directed by Mark Armstrong, everyone gets a label, so no one feels left out. For instance, Meg (Megan McQuillan) begins the play by labeling her boyfriend Sam (Michael Solomon) a sexist because he calls his secretary “Darling”. He fires back that calling his assistant a “secretary” is also sexist. And so it begins.
In this typical New York style love story, the biggest themes are that … it’s complicated. Life is complicated when you’re trying to fight against your labels, and the boxes other people put you in. Love is complicated when you don’t know how to step back when you need to step back … or step up when you need to step up. Careers are complicated when what you do and what you want to be are not necessarily in sync. Now ice this cupcake up with a dollop of interracial dating and you’ve got a mouthful here.
Meg, a reporter who spends her days covering fluff pieces rather than the hard hitting stories she sees other reporter get, bows under labels that other people might find complimentary. She’s referred to as “attractive” and in possession of a nice rack. Meg full admits to using her “beauty and sexual attractiveness to [her] advantage” but goes on to point out “But I’m only playing by the rules that were set up way before I got here. An those rules are fucked up.” But no one treats her seriously – and no one gives her a chance to do more. Ty (Damon Gupton) is black, but he’s also a “body-awareness” instructor for at-risk teens in Newark, which leaves him open to all the insults which involve that “Ohm Shanti – Shanti crap”. By giving back to a community he’s in a daily battle to stay enough the same in order to get some respect from his class of kids, but also be different enough to show, by example, what these kids can accomplish if they look beyond what they’ve been born to. Sam is a lawyer, so gets the slanders usually associated with his profession tossed his way. His sister Rachel (Mary Cross) gets some clunkers as well – she’s unmarried, 38 and Jewish in New York city. ”Do you know what they call unmarried thirty-eight year-old Jewish women in New York?” she asks her brother. ”Desperate,” I muttered under my breath, but instead, Rachel went with “Invisible”. But see? At this point I was doing it too.
If you’re at all familiar with the musical Avenue Q, you’ve no doubt heard the song “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” which tells (in 2 minutes) what Meg’s New Friend explores more deeply in 75 minutes. Singer gets everyone’s subtle and not-so-subtle prejudices right out there for everyone to see but also underlines the notion that just because we all have our own preconceived notions doesn’t mean that we’re not sometimes right about some of them. Conversely, it also doesn’t mean that we’re not willing to be taught a thing or two when it comes to shattering those illusions.
If Ty wasn’t black, this still would be a story about an unhappy couple (Meg and Sam), a man who can’t open up (Ty) and a woman who comes on too strong too early on in her romantic relationships (Rachel). The fact that each character gets to riff off of what makes us all different is really just a way for us to get to know them all a little better.
For instance, nothing tells us more about Sam and Rachel’s upbringing more than the way they talk about their dad who’s dating the age-inappropriate Debbie (“A Little Debbie Snack Cake”) and their mother (Our Mother? Our fuckin’ yenta fuckin’ annoying mother?) who’s dating a Fire Captain (RACHEL: A fire captain…? SAMUEL: An Irish fire captain. RACHEL: Is there any other kind?). It’s no wonder Sam’s girlfriend Meg would gravitate toward Rachel’s boyfriend Ty. Not because of race, but because Sam and Rachel are so annoying and Ty offers up something different. While Meg may blatantly say “I want a black friend” before pursuing a story about Ty and his inner city kids, what she’s really saying is “I want something different”. And not as in different-provocative. Just different from the whiny, insecure lawyer who won’t talk through his issues with her, even as she begs him to do so.
Megan McQuillan does a really great job showing all the wonderful foibles and insecurities of a person who knows she wants more but is also aware that her painfully awkward attempts can sometimes be misconstrued. She’s delightful and charming, and possibly exactly who Blair Singer was thinking of when he wrote the piece … more than “possibly” in fact. And while Ms. McQuillan admits that Meg is a someone that she “talks and thinks” like, she also admits that “the story itself is drawn wholly from Blair’s creative mind” (Off Off Online article by Doug Strassler). Still, there’s an honesty about Meg that shines through and therefore we can forgive the fact that she’s making some brash mistakes at this particular juncture in her life. Chalk it up to growing pains. Damon Gupton also does a wonderful job being the outward object of racism; he is candid and not afraid to speak some rather inflammatory words that can sometimes be just as awkward and confused as Meg’s. Together they make a flawed, jumbled, pair that ring true and teach us a lot more about what goes on under the surface – once we can get past the color that lies on top.
–MEG’S NEW FRIEND by Blair Singer November 29 – December 20 Manhattan Theatre Source (177 MacDougal St., between Waverly Pl. & West 8th). Running time: 75 minutes Tickets: $25 Call (212) 352-3101 or buy tickets online Click here for more information.