Worcester Telegram & Gazette
January 2016

NORTHBRIDGE — At one point in Braid Productions’ disarmingly funny presentation of Joe Simonelli’s “Men Are Dogs,” a comedy about some very angry women with relationship issues, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” can be heard wailing through the Singh Performance Center in Whitinsville. It’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 “I Am a Rock.”

There’s a delectable current of irony running through Jeremy Woloski’s slyly directed and ideally cast production, which played before a nearly sold out house on Friday night. It’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 he’s filling in for Sarah while she’s away for a few weeks with the Army Reserves. What follows is a verbal boxing match between the two, Bob deflecting Cecilia’s feminist jabs with amusing self-deprecating sarcasm. When he asks her what title she has in mind for a book about relationships she’s co-written, she tells him she was thinking of calling it “Men Are Dogs,” but “then that wouldn’t be fair to the dogs, would it?”

Not to be put in his place, he tells her she doesn’t “seem to be very impartial for a therapist”, but then what does he know about relationships, being “only a delivery man with an ex-wife and a few kids.” 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 daughter’s acrimony into matrimony. Rose lives upstairs in the home she and Cecilia share, the den of which serves as Cecilia’s office, and Rose can hear everything said, via a vent in the laundry room.

Cecilia’s method of therapy is unusual, to say the least. She hires a boastful bartender, Tony Rumson (Kevin H. Brady), to “role play” with her disgruntled patients. Little does Tony know he’s going to become a human punching bag for Cecilia’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 Console’s Loretta Morris, whose boyfriend is a cop who would rather watch football than “Downton Abbey.” Everyone of these malcontents takes it out on insensitive, tactless Tony, but Loretta rages most of all, giving Tony a black eye.

It’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, it’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 “B.” Lacking any visible intellectual acuity – how she managed to name her salon Hair Apparent and not see the pun is anyone’s guess – she’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 you’re a dog.

by Paul Kolas