Clever and funny in its kaleidoscopic portrait of people under pressure, “Application Pending” offers ample room for a tour de force by a chameleonic actress.


Vanessa Sawson seizes delicious opportunities to charm, amuse and earn sympathy in CATCO’s deft area premiere of the solo comedy, which opened Friday to frequent laughter in the Riffe Center’s Studio Three Theatre.


The pacing is just about perfect. Plus, each role registers distinctly, even amid a cascade of characters. Neither would be possible without Steven C. Anderson’s expert direction and collaboration with such a fine performer.


Despite some absurdist and cartoonish tendencies in the script, Sawson ultimately achieves credible humanity in her primary role as Christine, a single mom and aspiring kindergarten teacher thrust into the position of a kindergarten admissions director at an elite Manhattan private school.


What makes this production so much fun, though, is how well Sawson tackles 46 other roles alone onstage throughout the 75-minute one-act.


Using different voices and accents, along with telling shifts in posture and gesture, Sawson plays young and old, rich and poor, male and female, the arrogant and the desperate with nimble grace and humor.


Besieged by frequent calls from desperate parents trying to get their kids into the school, oblivious school staff members, a bad boss, taunting rival-school administrators, snooty one-percenters and miscellaneous other distractions and concerns, including the needs of her own young son, Christine at first seems like an innocent puppy thrown into a cage of lions, bears and a few assorted snakes.


But Christine learns the ropes quickly, charting a path of survival and empowerment while manning the barricades in scenic designer Michael Brewer’s cluttered office.


Inevitably, Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg’s off-Broadway hit tends to reduce most characters to caricatures.


Compression of time is a standard device in comedy, and what happens to Christine in one frenzied, harried day might only happen in real life over several weeks or months – though we all recall crazy days like that. So it’s easy to relate to “Application Pending” even if you’re not a parent.


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