By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
“It’s 11 o’clock.”
“At night?? Did we have dinner? ”
Energy drinks and whisky, plus the occasional $17-a-pack cigarette are what these people live on. No sleep, no kindness, no food, nothing but blind ambition. Which is, as Mark Anthony told us, a grievous fault, and, dude, these people pay grievously.
Actually, the above-quoted conversation is one of the few person-to-person exchanges in this short moralistic comedy, by Leslye Headland, Wilma Theater’s latest, under David Kennedy’s snappy direction. Most of the dialogue is one-sided phone conversations, and most of them are desperate, groveling, frantic. And there’s hardly a specific noun or antecedent in any of it: who’s “he”? what’s “it”? where’s “there”?
This is a grungy office where assistants toil at the mercy of their tyrannical boss, the unseen Daniel, one of the richest, most powerful men in the world. Think The Donald. Think Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue (they don’t call her Nuclear Wintour for nothing). With the promise of promotion, these assistants sabotage the others or themselves or both.
Nick and Nora (now where have we heard those names before?) are the major characters and Kevin Meehan and Kate Czajkowski are terrific as these twenty-somethings whose crassness and cruelty and jokiness is expressed more in body language than spoken language. Jake Blouch, Kahyum Kim, Emily Althaus and Michael Doherty turn in nail-on-the-head performances. They are obviously having big fun being these characters.
Assistance is one of a series of seven plays by Headland called “Seven Deadly Sins” and this one (labeled “greed,” although it’s not money they want but fame, power, glittering success) has already been optioned by NBC as a television comedy. And that’s what it feels like: a TV sit-com where the moral of the story is obvious and nothing really changes but the interchangeable “sits” creating a very contemporary, very shallow “com.”
Wilma Theatre, Broad & Spruce Sts., through Feb.3. Tickets $39-66. Information: 215-546-7824 or wilmatheater.org