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‘House Plant’ Review: A Bizarro Breakup and What Comes After


In retrospect, Max might have stood a better chance had he washed the occasional dish. But on the morning of the day that his world comes undone, he finds nothing in the kitchen to hold his cereal.

“All the bowls are dirty,” he tells his girlfriend, June. “Can we share?”

“Sure,” she says, companionably, and they both eat out of hers.

Before you know it, she’s broken up with him, albeit not in anger. It’s more like a sudden, insistent fit of wistfulness, a yearning to become a different version of herself after almost seven years with him.

And in the fever-dream world of Sarah Einspanier’s “House Plant,” June (Emma Ramos) leaps — whoosh! — right into that new life, ditching a meal-kit delivery business in New York to be a TV actress in Los Angeles.

The baffled Max (Ugo Chukwu) is left to recover with June’s pushy pal Chloe (Molly Bernard), who decides, against his protestations, that she’s moving in, effective immediately. So what if he never liked her.

The heightened, bizarro tone of this comedy and its head-spinning speed of events so strongly recall the style of Will Arbery’s “Plano” that an algorithm would match up their audiences: If you enjoyed that play, you’ll surely get a kick out of this one, directed by Jaki Bradley as part of the Next Door at NYTW series.

You’ll like it quite a lot for the first third, anyway. Then it begins to sag, though the occasional sudden shifts into a hospital-drama world (whose amped-up disconnection from reality recalls Paula Vogel’s “The Baltimore Waltz”) jolt things amusingly.

Einspanier, whose “Lunch Bunch” clocked in at a slender 60 minutes at Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks festival last year, goes a half-hour longer here, and it seems like more than that.

That’s despite a cast whose caliber makes you feel lucky to see them — particularly the reliably stellar Chukwu, whom I would watch in anything, and Bernard, who possesses the remarkable ability to wink without, seemingly, moving a single other muscle in her face. (Clubbed Thumb and the Play Company are bringing “Lunch Bunch” back in March, and once again Chukwu will be in it.)

Max, a composer trying to break into the hold-music market, and Chloe, a video artist whose well-defended heart is in danger of being breached by a musician named Agnes (Deepali Gupta), are as vivid as the creamy citrus green of Meredith Ries’s set.

With its leafy title flora sitting mutely throughout in a too-small pot, “House Plant” is about drama and domesticity, stasis and growth, online posturing and real-world pain. It’s about the building of emotional walls and their necessary demolition.

Written in what Einspanier labels as three movements, it is also an experiment with sound, including voice-overs (spoken by Gupta, who composed the show’s music) and effects. (The sound design is by John Gasper.)

“Do You Have Any Idea How Boring Life Would Be Without Underscoring,” Chloe says to June early on. It’s a statement, not a question, and the script’s emphatic capitalization is exactly how Bernard speaks it.

Even with underscoring, though, tedium can descend on a play that’s too diffuse.

There are just two moments of undisguised feeling in “House Plant,” and they come almost as bookends — quick, quiet and anchoring. This frenzied play could use more of them.

House Plant

Through Feb. 22 at the Fourth Street Theater, 83 East 4th Street, Manhattan; nytw.org. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

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