By Patrick Christiano
The workplace is the setting for Leslye Headland’s hysterically funny Assistance, a play about a pack of self involved office workers slaving away for an offstage mega maniac employer named Daniel Weisinger. As directed by Trip Cullm and brought to life by a supreme ensemble of top notch actors the evening zips along at an always engaging rapid fire pace, only slowing down enough to let the insanity of the workers over zealous need for approval and advancement land. The stakes exist in reverse proportion to the characters’ frantic quest for them. I doubt if there is any coincidence that the playwright once worked as an assistant to Harvey Weinstein, who is apparently the model for Weisinger.
In Assistance life in the office is a series of endless humiliations at the hands of their domineering boss, a powerful uber-tycoon. In rare moments of calm when the phone stops ringing, Nick and Nora and their traumatized co-workers question whether their work will bring them advancement or just more unappreciated hard work. “I don’t know about you. But all id did was get good at not being any good.”
The six actors are a dream team led by Michael Esper as Nick, a self-loathing cocky office manager, and Virginia Kull as Nora, who evolves in the brief span of two years from a naive and hopeful upstart to a corrupt harridan. There is also Jenny, an upbeat English intern, who realizes the trade off for being a punching bag for her sadistic boss is the best selling play that she will write from her experiences. The other actors are Sue Jean Kim, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, and Bobby Steggert and they are all fantastic. Every moment rings with the duality of the truth in their capable hands.
Leslye Headland is an up and coming playwright, who has also written the Bachelorette along with several other plays. She worked for Harvey Weinstein at Miramax, which became a 24 hour job, for six years while writing and directing plays in her spare time. Her dialogue is modern day zany, but on a technical level she puts together amazingly choreographed dazzling bursts of phone activity in which the characters take calls, transfer calls, and co-ordinate schedules all the while navigating their own personal office dramas. The ever changing comic rhythms of the situations keep these actors working at a break neck pace, but their efforts make the evening one of the most tantalizing of the season.
Assistance is now playing at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues, from February 3 through March 11. Performances are Tues @ 7, Wed-Fri @ 8, Sat @ 2:30 & 8 pm, Sun @ 2:30 & 7:30. For tickets call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.TicketCentral.com
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