Wellesley Girl is a play where everything, starting with the script, truly does go wrong

Photo by Joe Mazza

Some critics I know really enjoy writing bad reviews. They love the rare opportunities to flex their creative venom glands and spew forth nasty wordplay and commentary that really does nothing except let their readers know how clever…and callous…they can be.

I’m not one of these.

Honestly, I go into every play wanting to love it and then to sing its praises. I wouldn’t care if I gave top marks to every single play I review; in fact, I’d enjoy it. What’s not to enjoy about honoring good work? Unfortunately, not every play I see is worth that praise. Not every play is, to put it bluntly, good. Sometimes this is due to weak directorial decisions, sometimes to weak acting. Most often, though, it’s simply that good people have done their best with really bad material. Of course, there are times when it’s a combination of all of these.

That’s how I felt while watching Compass Theatre’s production of Brendan Pelsue’s Wellesley Girl. A piece of speculative theatre (a genre that I, as a lifelong science fiction and fantasy fan, happen to enjoy most of the time), this is a play (and, unfortunately, a production) with little to recommend it. From the uninspiring and unimaginative choices of director James Fleming (how often do people in real life actually turn their back on each other, anyway?) to acting that, while solid, is mostly one-note, to writing that, if held up to even a smidgeon of scrutiny, makes absolutely no sense, Wellesley Girl is just not worth a trip to the theatre, especially during a pandemic.

The plot of this play, which stops making sense almost immediately, is that the United States, in the year 2465, has shrunk down to a walled enclave of four towns in Massachusetts. The rest of the country fell victim to a mass poisoning event when an uncontrolled algae bloom infected the water supply. (If you are wondering how a single mutant bloom could poison all of the water in the whole nation, well, you begin to see what I mean.) In this mini-USA, though, the water—for some reason—is pure. (There is some mumbo jumbo about filtration that merely begs more questions, like why this sort of filter was not used everywhere the bloom affected.)

In this version of the United States, literally everyone is a member of Congress because there are just not enough people to fill it otherwise. So, when an emergency arises—in this case a mysterious army encamped just outside the walls—the whole populace is called upon to decide what to do. OK, fine. But why are the only two choices under discussion sending out an envoy to see what this army wants (logical) and a “scorched earth” notion of burning down and abandoning their entire “country”? And why does no one, even the people on the side of suing for peace, recognize that the very presence of an army means they are not, after all, the only living remnants of the old US?

These are not the only questions begged by the plot, though, by a long shot. Putting aside the fact that their entire world concept has just been erased, which should make them question pretty much everything, there is the inexplicable anger of Todd Wojcik’s Scott, who—despite what apparently have been decades of peace, in which the mini-US has not even seen the need to populate its highest court—seems to argue instantly with everyone and almost gleefully want to blow everything they know sky high, despite the unknown dangers that would await them if they did. And about those dangers: why does no one put together the fact that, if a Texas army—yes, it’s from Texas (of course)—has marched all this way, they must have potable drinking water. And why would they march here anyway? There is no way for them to know this enclave even exists!

I’m just scratching the surface of this script’s logical inconsistencies. Suffice it to say that Pelsue really needed to think this through better.

Oh, there are things to like about the play, though. Chief among these is Deanna Reed-Foster’s brilliant, nuanced performance as the last lawyer in the known world who—as a one-woman Supreme Court—quite literally has the fate of a country in her grasp. If you are the kind of person who thinks one superlative performance coming in the latter moments is worth slogging through the previous nonsensical hour, you’ll be richly rewarded by Reed-Foster, who makes us truly believe that the weight of the world has just crushed her.

The publicity material for this play states that it is much like the politics that lie at its core: “funny, until it suddenly isn’t.” But where is the humor? Although I noticed a whole lot of places early on—mostly involving Darren Jones’ TJ and Alice Torres’ Marie—where the lines could have evoked laughter, they are not delivered that way. Clearly, Fleming was not interested here in any kind of nuance or subtlety, even as much as a script that literally has people yelling over each other for long periods of time can provide.

I know that a lot of people worked hard to bring us Wellesley Girl, but—other than Reed-Foster—I just can’t find any reason to recommend it. If you do want to do so, however, it is playing through February 5 at Theater Wit and tickets are available at CompassTheatre.org.

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