"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.