Monday, November 13, 2017

Review of "What We’re Up Against"

Twenty-five years ago playwright Theresa Rebeck penned What We’re Up Against, a show that dealt with sexism in the workplace.  Unfortunately, the premise portrayed in the play is as true today as it was in 1992.  It is receiving a satisfying, well-expressed production at the WP Theater on the Upper West Side through December 3rd.

The cast of "What We're Up Against," (l - r) Damian Stuart, Marg Helgenberger, Skylar Astin, Krsta Rodriguez and Jim Parrack.

The storyline concerns Eliza (Krysta Rodriguez), a young, determined newcomer to a small architectural firm.  She is eager to show her skills to Stu (Damian Young), the boozing office manager who is not too keen to involve the strong-minded self-starter.  She doesn’t receive much support from Ben (Jim Parrack), another employee; Weber (Skylar Astin), an obtuse, talent-less, recent hire; or Janice (Marg Helgenberger), the only other female employee of the company.  The problem for the firm is how to solve a thorny renovation job for a local mall.  Eliza, supposedly, is the only person that has resolved the troublesome issue, but no one wants to listen to her solution.  At least not officially.  But, with a lot of squabbling, shouting and posturing by the characters, along with some savvy deviousness by Eliza, there is a gratifying conclusion to the show and, maybe, the beginnings of some sensible dialogue between the combatants.
Krysta Rodriguez and Skylar Astin in "What We're Up Against."
Rebeck’s play doesn’t come up with a complex or sophisticated scenario on sexism on the job.  However, its straightforwardness gets the point across and provides focus on this disconcerting issue.   The characters she has created lack a well-rounded persona, coming across as more one-dimensional.  But, nevertheless, they can be quite funny.  Maybe lamentable is a better description.

Every cast member offers a superb, well-hone portrayal of their character.  Krysta Rodriguez imbues Eliza with a fiery resolve.  She is patient, playing the game to a point, before literally screaming her frustrations to the world.  Damian Young’s Stu comes across as one of those beloved boozers that talks and talks, but who’s logic is suspect and slightly askew.  Jim Parrack’s Ben is an interesting character.  You can feel the actor having an internal debate on whether to buck the office trend to ignore Eliza’s ability and acumen or to embrace it.   Skylar Astin is hysterical as the dim-witted staff member Weber, who as Eliza states is great at “archi-talk,” but nothing else.  Marg Helgenberger’s Janice, at first, is more concerned about not upsetting the apple cart, but by the end of the show comes across as a touch more complicated and heartrending.
Marg Helgenberger and Krysta Rodriguez in "What We're Up Against."
Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt steers the focus of each scene to the characters, their dogmatic ramblings, and silly digressions.  Her main concern, it seems, is to position each actor appropriately on-stage and having them wander around the office every so often to break up the static activity.  This isn’t a negative observation on Ms. Campbell-Holt’s directorial prowess.  It’s more a critique based on what the playwright has presented.

Scenic Designer Narelle Sissons has crafted a two-level set that suitably represents two every day, functional offices.  Nothing special.  Uncomplicated, but effective.

What We’re Up Against, a humorous, thought-provoking primer on sexual discrimination in the workplace, playing through December 3rd.

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