Reviewed by Audrey Weinbrecht
After a young law student named Amena’s trip to the DMV to finalize her immigration papers leads to her being held by the FBI under a ludicrous accusations of terrorism, she finds herself trapped in the break room with a DMV employee. Fresh out of rehab, he shares with her his unique theory about the world: “When a person loses hope they either destroy themselves or they destroy others.” This is the “hope hypothesis” from which the show gets its name and presumably is the main theme of the piece.
“So what’s the solution?” Amena asks but the conversation is interrupted by the entry of another character. The show does not provide an answer to this question, which leaves the story without a resolution. If anything, by not providing a solution to this problem, the show suggests that there is none which fits with the rather bleak ending. Despite the laughs, the story touches on a very real fear for many Americans. The cultural relevance is what gives the satire its bite. Amena’s situation is depicted as ridiculous but plausible. There is perhaps no more damning indictment of this country’s stance on immigration than to laugh at it.
But the show’s ending gives the impression of echoing a conversation without adding anything new to the discourse. A dark ending could have worked if it had tied up more narrative threads. Not learning what happened to any of the main characters makes the arc of the story feel cut off, not resolved. The reason the ending is so frustrating is that the majority of the show is excellent. It takes a clever, incisive wit to make scenes about waiting in line at the DMV and being interrogated by the FBI entertaining and hilarious. The dialogue is sharp and witty. The cast tears through the script with gusto and plays off each other with impeccable comedic timing.
Each character is introduced as a seemingly average person, then becomes increasingly neurotic as the plot races from one absurd scenario to another. Some standouts: Wesley Zurick as the peppy teller with Machiavellian ambitions, Charlie O’Rourke as Amena’s histrionic boyfriend, and Greg Brostrom as a buffoonish FBI agent. As the plot escalates, only Amena remains the same, grounding the story. Soraya Broukhim makes Amena the sympathetic, intelligent, accessible protagonist she needs to be. An ordinary, capable young American trapped by increasing layers of bureaucratic farce.
She ends up completely undone by it, but perhaps there was another ending that could have been imagined for her.
The Voyage Theater Company’s production of The Hope Hypothesis runs through Sunday, November 15th at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture (18 Bleecker Street).
Tickets can be purchased at https://www.sheencenter.org/shows/hope/2019-10-25/