Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: ASSISTANCE

Review: ASSISTANCE

 

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

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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