Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Assistance @ Playwrights Horizons (thru March 11)

Assistance @ Playwrights Horizons
Assistance, now on stage at Playwrights Horizons, opens frenetically with two men sparring at/to each other in a shared language of puns, jokes, expletives, and verbal shorthand.  It races with such a rapid fire pace that the audience is left wondering if they will ever catch up.  Your ear has to attune to the cadence, in much the same way it takes a few minutes of Shakespeare before the viewer settles into it.
Those audience members that do fall into the rhythm and mindset of these men, they are rewarded with play that engenders a sense of camaraderie and fun set in the cut-throat world of entertainment personal assistants. Those audience members that are easily offended, too empathetic or don’t catch on quickly to the slang and speed of the delivery tend to drop out of the proceedings, which is too bad.  Because Assistants is about more than just crazed office workers, it is about the lengths we go to reach our dreams. And how we cling to those dreams, even after they fall short of our expectations.
The boss, a sadistic self-important and border-line psychopath, but powerful entertainment executive, is never seen.  It is his whims, frustrations and rules which drive the people on stage into fits to meet his requirements.  Michael Esper and Virginia Kull bring life to Nick and Nora, the central pair of executive assistants.  These two give voice and reason as to why someone would choose this job.  Nick guides Nora through the Byzantine rule set to please, or at least not anger, the un-seen Mr. Weinberger.
Virginia Kull & Michael Esper as assistants in Assistance

The rest of the cast, including Bobby Steggart and Lucas Near-Vergrugghe, are excellent – they show up for some magical moments, in roles as the assistant de jour.  Amy Rosoff and Sue Jean Kim play female assistants very well, although they are given pretty one dimensional roles to fulfill.
The sets (David Korins) are great, and provide an appropriate claustrophobic environment; big enough to lose something important, but not big enough to provide relief.  And Director Trip Cullman moves the cast very well inside of this new play by Leslye Headland.
But as good as the cast is, the point of the entire show hangs just out reach.  Is this elaborate game an appropriate, or useful, try out for the next job?  Is it a story of power gone mad, and the lengths people will do to achieve it?  Is it a morality tale; be careful what you wish for?  Or it is it the tale of the lifecycle of a relationship, albeit not a romantic one?  The ambiguity of the point can be fascinating, and it was in Assistance.  But an audience member looking for a more black and white experience could find Assistance frustrating.
Assistance at PlayWrights Horizons
Playwright: Leslye Headland
Director: Trip Cullman
Cast: Michael Esper, Sue Jean Kim, Virginia Kull, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Amy Rosoff, Bobby Stegger
Runs Through: March 11th

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