Any new play centering on Generation Y is definitely going to have the F-word flying about somewhere. And by F-word, I don?t mean the four-letter one that ends in ”k” (though you also hear that one quite a bit). I mean the eight-letter one that ends in ”k” and had a whole movie about its inception starring Jesse Eisenberg. The three principals in Erica Lipez?s The Tutors dare not even speak its name. They too had dreams of attaining Mark Zuckerberg-type success, but poor timing put the kibosh on that fast.
This new offering from Second Stage Uptown’s Off Broadway summer series (playing through June 16) is kind of like Reality Bites for our overmedicated, overachieving times, except that slackerdom has been replaced by the constancy of shut-in workload. Toby (Keith Nobbs) and Joe (Matt Dellapina) are working in New York City as tutors to pay the rent on a rundown, cramped three-bedroom also occupied by the perennially dazed, agoraphobic Heidi (Aubrey Dollar), who corrects essays online and has developed an unhealthy attachment to one of her unseen overseas clients (Louis Ozawa Changchien), who appears to her in fantasy form (but is he actually real?).
In their spare time, the roommates maintain a social-networking site that seems to be imploding. Then a lonely, manipulative prep schooler (Chris Perfetti) blackmails Joe and Toby into dual tutorials and slowly worms his way into their everyday lives (”I like to collect things,” he says). A fair helping of ganja and Ambien, plus a sexual dalliance between two of the roomies, ultimately prove too much for this crew to handle.
At its most agreeable, The Tutors recalls John Hughes? keen attention to the crushing disappointments of young lives without a needlessly grim center. With a terrific assist by director Thomas Kail (Lombardi) and scenic designer Rachel Hauck (you can practically smell the dirty clothes on the fabulously messy apartment set), the play is more successful at the day-to-day curveballs of its characters? outer lives than exploring their inner desires.
But the buoyant cast gives the characters dimension. Nobbs seems incapable of being anything less than completely sensitive on stage. Perfetti, a scene stealer in 2011’s Sons of the Prophet, turns a potentially one-dimensional rich brat into someone more relatable. And Dollar displays the offbeat, funny nonchalance of a young Parker Posey. Thanks to them, The Tutors never feels like summer school. B