Worcester Telegram & Gazette
NORTHBRIDGE â€” At one point in Braid Productionsâ€™ disarmingly funny presentation of Joe Simonelliâ€™s â€œMen Are Dogs,â€ a comedy about some very angry women with relationship issues, Simon & Garfunkelâ€™s â€œCeciliaâ€ can be heard wailing through the Singh Performance Center in Whitinsville. Itâ€™s an apt tune, considering the main character, a therapist who runs a support group for single and divorced women is named Cecilia Monahan. And as Michelle England plays her, with humorously brittle emotional repression, maybe a more representative Simon & Garfunkel ditty for Cecilia would be â€œI Am a Rock.â€
Thereâ€™s a delectable current of irony running through Jeremy Woloskiâ€™s slyly directed and ideally cast production, which played before a nearly sold out house on Friday night. Itâ€™s apparent from the get-go that Cecilia has as much of a bias against men as her seething, militant patients. As soon as the delivery man, Bob Crowley (Rob Lynds), cheerfully shows up at her office with a package, she snaps at him like a terrier, asking him what happened to Sarah, the usual delivery lady, and frowning when he tells her heâ€™s filling in for Sarah while sheâ€™s away for a few weeks with the Army Reserves. What follows is a verbal boxing match between the two, Bob deflecting Ceciliaâ€™s feminist jabs with amusing self-deprecating sarcasm. When he asks her what title she has in mind for a book about relationships sheâ€™s co-written, she tells him she was thinking of calling it â€œMen Are Dogs,â€ but â€œthen that wouldnâ€™t be fair to the dogs, would it?â€
Not to be put in his place, he tells her she doesnâ€™t â€œseem to be very impartial for a therapistâ€, but then what does he know about relationships, being â€œonly a delivery man with an ex-wife and a few kids.â€ England and Lynds are a terrifically engaging pair of opposites, but one can rightfully, predictably, surmise that eventually the rules of attraction will apply. Cecilia may not imagine such a thing happening to her in a million years, but her mother, Rose Monahan (played with divinely endearing friskiness by Lisa Mielnicki), does her best to convert her daughterâ€™s acrimony into matrimony. Rose lives upstairs in the home she and Cecilia share, the den of which serves as Ceciliaâ€™s office, and Rose can hear everything said, via a vent in the laundry room.
Ceciliaâ€™s method of therapy is unusual, to say the least. She hires a boastful bartender, Tony Rumson (Kevin H. Brady), to â€œrole playâ€ with her disgruntled patients. Little does Tony know heâ€™s going to become a human punching bag for Ceciliaâ€™s three long-term clients. Madeline Weinberg (Michelle Mowry) is a literary agent who only gets dates with men who want to sell their manuscripts. Jane Rudolph (Angela Johnsen) is an emotionally fragile nurse whose boyfriend is a banker in jail for stealing money from his bank. And most dangerous of all is Christie Consoleâ€™s Loretta Morris, whose boyfriend is a cop who would rather watch football than â€œDownton Abbey.â€ Everyone of these malcontents takes it out on insensitive, tactless Tony, but Loretta rages most of all, giving Tony a black eye.
Itâ€™s hilarious to watch Brady take all the physical and verbal abuse, before he runs out the door in terror. When Cecilia replaces Tony with Bob, itâ€™s a totally different story, as Bob uses oodles of charm and empathy to calm the ladies into a state of grateful bliss. Console, Mowry and Johnsen impart their characters with excellent distinction.
New to the group, and enacted with exhilarating abandon by Vivian Eliza Nichols, is Allison Taylor, a hair salon owner with a habit of only dating only men with names that begin with the letter â€œB.â€ Lacking any visible intellectual acuity â€“ how she managed to name her salon Hair Apparent and not see the pun is anyoneâ€™s guess â€“ sheâ€™s a wild-eyed waif lacking an emotional filter, so smitten with Bob that she startles him by repeatedly jumping up on his back, like a little girl whose daddy is carrying her off to bed. Nichols is just perfect in the role.
The comic highlight of the show is the aftermath of a drinking and dancing binge by Cecilia and Bob at a nightclub, England and Lynds clinging to and falling over each other with convincing drunken, slurring foreplay. When the play veers into lightly serious territory, in a well-played, heated scene between England and Lynds, the message learned is that Cecilia is ready to let go of the past and tread into relationship territory once again. It a high-caliber sitcom of a show, and well-worth your time, even if youâ€™re a dog.
by Paul Kolas