Friday, February 13, 2015

Off-Broadway, Offices Provide the Setting For Master Classes in Acting

Allen Moyer's set for Rasheeda Speaking is so realistic that I had doctor's office anxiety just waiting for the show to begin. I didn't get anymore comfortable as it went on, but a play about office politics and racial tensions should not be pleasant.
Photo credit: Monique Carboni
Jaclyn (Tonya Pinkins) and Ileen (Dianne Wiest) work in a surgeon's office. Jaclyn has been sick and away for a week. On the day she returns, Dr. Williams (Darren Goldstein) meets with Ileen, who he recently promoted to office manager, to tell her to keep an eye on Jaclyn. He's looking for an excuse to fire her. At first, Jaclyn and Ileen engage in polite office banter and passive aggression, which will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked in an office environment, but their behavior soon veers from the passive to the aggressive.

There are no easy answers in Joel Drake Johson's play, directed by Cynthia Nixon, making an impressive directorial debut. It's to his credit that there are no heroes and villains. Jaclyn is organized and efficient and Ileen is messy and scatterbrained, but Jaclyn can be rude and abrupt with patients, which we see firsthand when Rose (Patricia Connolly) comes into the office for her appointment. Characters make racist comments to Jaclyn, but she also comments that her neighbors speak "Mexican."

Towards the end, the play seems to lose its grasp on reality, but then it picks it up again, and Pinkins and Wiest manage to make every moment work.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
A few blocks over at the Westside Theatre, is a different, but also convincing office--the set of Application Pending (designed by Colin McGurk). YouTube celebrity Christina Bianco plays Christine, the new head of preprimary admissions at Edgely Prep (she's inexplicably been promoted from kindergarten assistant), and about 40 other characters who call her on the phone. Written by Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg, who also directs, the play is meant to shed a light on the cutthroat world of prep school admissions, but the jokes aren't new and the format repetitive. But let's call this show what it is, a showcase for Bianco's talents of imitation. Add her to the list of thrilling performances Off-Broadway right now, which also includes Pinkins and Wiest.

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