Sunday, February 12, 2012


"Assistance" at Playwrights Horizons, February 9, 2012

Traveling familiar ground, the latest offering at the very consistent Playwrights Horizons is Leslye Headland's Assistance, about the struggling underclass of capitalist serfs, suffering at the hands of an unseen tyrant.  In this case the invisible antagonist is Daniel Weisinger, a highly volatile agent/representative (Barry Diller-like, perhaps?) in an unnamed industry, who wields fear, loathing and admiration from a series of put-upon administrative assistants.  At the top of the play, Vince, a slick and smarmy Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, celebrates the last day of his sentence before stepping up into a coveted "director" role (also undefined).  Following him up the corporate ladder is Nick, a likable Michael Esper, who takes on the part of chief torturer among the cadre of assistants.  Advancement comes at a high price.  Even Vince has to knuckle under to Daniel vagaries in his last moments as servant.

The "new meat" in the office is Nora, a sympathetic Virginia Kull, transferring over from the Siberia that is the "Canal Street office."  Like many before and after her, she's set her sights on duplicating, if not exceeding, the heights of fame and fortune achieved by her idolized boss.  It's a quick trip to disillusionment and jaded cynicism for her, as she takes her own lumps, as well as those belonging to others.  Beleaguered Justin, a very strong Bobby Steggert, spends most of the evening on the other end of the telephone, but shows up in Act II, after a typical "Daniel rant" lands him with a broken foot.

Heather (Sue Jean Kim) and Jenny, a very funny Amy Rosoff, round out the later victims, each getting a chance to take focus during funny, if distracting, monologues.  The relationship ups and downs between and among them aren't really surprising ("Nick & Nora" really?), as they try to maintain sanity while working for a lunatic.

Like I said, the terrain is quite familiar after "The Devil Wears Prada."  But this time, we don't get the benefit of seeing the villain in action.  The result is an extended sit-com, and could have easily filled a 30-minute slot with the same effect.

Director Trip Cullman moves things quickly, enhancing the sit-comish feel to the super-slick dialogue.  Jenny's final monologue does offer some interesting and unexpected quirks, but it's a long time coming.  David Korins' set succinctly and cleverly captures the essence of a hip, NYC office space.

Assistance runs through March 7.  See discount information in a previous post, along with a link to purchase tickets.

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