Emerging young artist, Gwendolyn Phair wowed audiences at the 2023 New York Theater Festival with her original two-act play 16,000 PSI, which she wrote, directed, and acted in at Teatro Latea this past May. Diving straight into the deep end, 16,000 PSI took on multiple pressing social issues of our times, including addiction, gender inequality, power imbalances, sexual misconduct in the workplace, and the ethics around ambition.

Both acts are set at the home of an upper middle class family. The first is a celebration of the patriarch Bill (played by Eric Parness) becoming a partner in his firm; the second is his retirement party a decade later. Bill is the satellite around which his wife Victoria (Alice Bahlke) and daughters Mary (Allie Donnelly) and Salem (played by Phair) revolve. While Bill’s achievements, as well as his failings, create the overarching structure of the play, the members of his family and a larger constellation of secondary and tertiary characters are tethered to him, weighed down by the pressure he emits (and the traumas he causes, directly and indirectly).

At the heart of the story is the relationship of two sisters who are adrift in their family and their struggles with their own—and each other’s—loss of innocence. We see them come of age, attempt to find their footing in life, and cope with the consequences of their circumstances and choices. Phair and Donnelly play off one another beautifully through tender moments and clever, sharp-witted, often laugh-out-loud funny dialogue. Their banter ricochets between sisterly teasing, allyship, and judgemental condemnation, but under it all lies a love as deep as the ocean.

Phair’s play artfully blends together the domestic and professional trials of middle class people, putting a spotlight on the intense pressure-filled moments that can change the course of a life—or lives. It explores the ways people deal with pressure in its different forms—at home, at work, in their relationships—how they grapple with it, try to survive it, and sometimes implode under the weight of it.

The nine players gave an excellent performance of this far-reaching, multifaceted story. The interplay between the different sets of characters was both entertaining and seamless as they switched off like dance partners throughout. The crew also did a great job of managing the relatively large cast on a small stage, and imbuing the scenes with hallmarks of the 1980s and ‘90s (set, costumes, and even nostalgic intermission music).

The cast was stellar, but perhaps most impressive of all, was the quality of the scriptwriting, especially for someone as young and new to the writing side of theater as Phair. Her deft handling of complicated subject matter, the way she offset harsh realities with perceptive existential observations and flat-out humor, her whip-smart dialogue, and ability to weave her PSI metaphor throughout the journey from beginning to end was nothing short of astounding.

– Jen Laskey

Seeing Gwendolyn Phair’s play 16000 PSI at The New York Theater Festival was one of those moments that surprises you in the magical way that only independent theater can. It’s exciting to discover new and raw talent and we believe that is what Gwendolyn has, both as an actor and a playwright. We found the characters in the play to be complex, unafraid to show imperfections and funny. The play moved at a good pace and got us thinking more deeply about the choices that women have had to make in order to survive in the corporate world. Some of the judgements I may have had for or against ‘playing the game’ were called into question and I liked that. I like plays that cause me to re-examine and expand my mindset. While the play showed a solid level of maturity, it also felt fresh. My husband and I left thinking, ‘I can’t wait to see what Gwendolyn writes or stars in next!

– Michelle Ortega

In reviewing ‘1600 PSI,’ at the charming and intimate Teatro Latea theater in New York, I must admit that I knew nothing about the play, it’s story line, or the playwright/actor Gwendolyn Phair. I can now say with conviction that I was completely blown away after seeing this stunning performance. She delivered incredible creative talent, psychological insight, and depth of nuanced performance! At the young age of 20 years old, Ms. Phair’s genius brought together so beautifully to the stage, complicated issues and roles that people play in life. The timing, flow and wisdom of her play took me on an enlightening journey of ideas and emotion. It was absolutely an enjoyable and must-see experience. If this is one of Gwendolyn Phair’s earliest creations, I cannot wait to see more of her work in the future!

– Bruce Fein, New York City

The play, 16,000 PSI, written, acted and directed by Gwendolyn Phair, is a multi layered and complex story of a family and their relationships. There are many questions asked about life and what is important, as well as what drives us. It explores family priorities and the status quo. It takes a sharp look at the nature and definition of success.

Frankly, it is hard to believe that this play was written by someone younger than fifty. Ms Phair, is clearly a talented writer and a deep thinker. She found and directed a highly competent cast, and she moves the audience with her character’s ability to see through people and call them on their foibles and character flaws.

I recommend this play to be one that a group of people watch and discuss. There is much to think about and reflect upon. Thank you Gwendolyn Phair for a moving and thoughtful play.

–  Meredith Caplan

If you somehow missed the 3 performance treat of seeing the show ’16,000 PSI’ at New York City’s LATEA THEATER last month, you don’t know what your missed! Gwendolyn Phair’s triumph in writing, directing and starring in this play is truly incredible. The range of topics that the play addresses, including family dynamics, addiction, ambition, regrets and redemption, is huge and multi-faceted. The depth and complexity of the sisters’ relationship is heartfelt, the reality of sexual politics is difficult and painful, and the sensitivity with which such issues are handled, seems as though all of this must have come from a person of advanced age and experience. The fact that it comes from a fresh faced, insightful, creative woman who acts with the nimbleness of an imp and the surefootedness of a seasoned actress is amazing. Ms. Phair is without question headed for great success and I, for one, plan to follow her future accomplishments with great interest and enthusiasm.

– Susan Fein, New Jersey