|Reed Birney and Susan Kelechi Watson; Photo credit: Ben Arons|
Birney plays Richard, owner of a small travel agency. It's a weekend staff retreat, but because of budget issues, it's being held at the office. Lauren Helpern's set really makes you feel like you're in a drab conference room. The tropical decorations Richard provides only makes it that much sadder. Also present are Eliot (Wilhemi), on her first day at work, Nancy (Watson), a long-time employee, and Todd (Thureen), the tech guy who isn't allowed to talk to clients. Levenson's dialogue captures the way people speak to each other at work. There is a sense of politeness, but also of the bonds and frustrations that form when you spend too much time with people. He's also created realistic, flawed characters that we learn to care about in a short period of time.
Director Carolyn Cantor uses the space effectively and gets memorable performances from her cast. Birney is as always heartbreaking. He is so good at playing sad sacks, but one day I hope to see him play a character who triumphs. Watson was the biggest discovery, perfect at tossing out snarky comments, but also bringing the right amount of pathos to her scenes with Birney. Wilhelmi is hilarious as the eager newcomer, trying so hard to provide the right amount of water bottles and food, but constantly failing. And Thureen is wonderfully awkward, but like the other three, keeps his character from becoming a caricature.
I missed Levenson's The Language of Trees at Roundabout Underground, but his play The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin will be premiering at the Laura Pels this summer and it's now on my want-to-see list. In the meantime, you only have until May 18 to see Core Values, so get to it.