First Nighter: Christina Bianco Lights Up Application Pending

Beauty and humor aren't so common a combination that a theatergoer can afford to get blasé about it. That's what Christina Bianco dispenses in large quantities throughout the Greg Edwards-Andy Sandberg Applications Pending at the Westside Arts/Downstairs, and this spectator is definitely not blasé about it.

Known for her bang-on impersonations of celebrities, Bianco brings her abundant talents to people not necessarily famous this time--although courtesy of her, George Clooney weighs in. Instead, she plays any number of recognizable types. How many? Don't ask me. I lost track after about 10.

When lights go up on set designer Colin McGurk's office, the walls of which are decorated with children's drawings and the like, Bianco's waiting for the phone to ring. When it does, she picks up the receiver, speaks and makes it expositionally clear that she's Christine and having her first day as pre-primary admissions director for Edgerly,the (fictional) hoity-toity Manhattan private school.

And the phone keeps ringing. Every time she answers, she's talking either to someone wanting to know about the Edgerly admissions forms or someone otherwise associated with the school or associated with Christine herself.

Among those pestering her, to name only a motley few, are a honey-tongued mother from the South, a pushy Jewish mother not above pretending to be her son and a scholarship-needy father. Also badgering her is the brusquely demanding headmaster who's worried about the after-school-hours dinner where a rich but seafood-allergic father with an eligible son will be a guest. She's also in touch more than once with the caterer.

Directed by Sandberg to leave her chair infrequently, Bianco finds what seems like innumerable voices and affects for all those at the other end of the line, and she turns into them within split seconds.

It's likely anyone observing this vocal obstacle course will spend many dazzled moments wondering how Bianco does it. Well, she does it with heart-stopping facility. She's learned the lines and the sequences immaculately and pulls them off without ever pulling out her $100-cut hair. As the beats within the script accumulate, she does her work without missing a beat.

Watching Applications Pending is something akin to tuning into Lily Tomlin's Ernestine blended with Fully Committed, Becky Mode's off-Broadway hit of 15 years ago. In that one the grace-under-pressure person at a fancy Manhattan restaurant's reservation desk is increasingly harried at what he or she must put up with. (Mark Setlock opened the comedy in Manhattan, and, if I remember correctly, Joan Rivers replaced him.)

This time the phone handler inches close to losing it when the demands of insistent parents and the headmaster's harsh manner becomes overbearing. Forced by the man to cancel an anticipated outing with her son to attend that troubled Edgerly dinner, she does find a way to reverse the school head's unreasonable demands. That's what might be called a large part of the 75-minute entertainment's dramatic arc, to what there is of it.

Bianco gets her laughs for sure, although sometimes it felt to me as if the audience with which I was sitting recognized the lines meant to be amusing and responded accordingly. As for me, I smiled during a lot of it. Bianco's skills had much to do with that. I even laughed out loud at a line about privileged children and computers and another one about algebra, abstinence and today's school curriculum.

Although I won't go out on an especially long limb in saying the following, I suspect that Application Pending comes of something playwrights Edwards and/or Sandberg have gone through themselves. Getting children enrolled in schools that give the kid a chubby leg up on eventually enrolling at the best universities isn't an entirely new subject. Parents who've waged the battle from the moment their tyke was born might understandably find knocking the experience in the Edwards-Sandberg manner a helpful way to alleviate the pain.

They're certainly the likeliest audience for Application Pending. A wider audience will surely go full out for Bianco's infinite wiles.