Assistance

 

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Assistance

Directed by by Joshua Aaron Weinstein

Produced by LiveWire Chicago

At the Storefront Theater. Chicago

Mind-numbing world of executive assistants debunked

The realistic set (design by Anders Jacobson and Judy Radovsky) made me feel like I entered one of the Loop office suites. This space is home to a brave group of 20semething New Yorkers whose corporate existence is geared to facilitate all the business and personal whims of a billionaire corporate president – the unseen Daniel. We meet Vince (John Taflan) the ‘chief’ assistant to the rude,  demanding Daniel as he gloats with Nick (Brian Crawford) about his promotion to ‘director’ with his own office down the hall. The interplay between Vince and Nick shows two obnoxious, high-strung 20soemethings who despise their boss and their demeaning job.

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Once Vince is gone, Nick – himself a work-slacker, is elevated to being Daniel’s ‘chief’ assistant ready at all time to be on call for the whims and needs of the corporate CEO. Nick finds help from the newbie Nora (Lauren Fisher) who is in ‘awe’ of being an assistant to Daniel – her corporate idol. She quickly become invaluable to Nick and she bonds with Daniel. Filled with sharp acerbic dialogue, the constant pressure atmosphere is relieved with banter and personal ribbing.

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Flash forward a year and we meet a third assistant, Heather (Krista D’Agostino), she is a neurotic soul who seems to get the brunt of Nick and Nora’s jabs as she becomes the scapegoat for all the errors and problems when arranging Daniels affairs and foibles. These interoffice and interpersonal encounters lead to frustration and a feeling of worthlessness by the assistants.

Daniel is difficult and he has not regard for his assistants as people. He is rude, demanding and uncaring toward his assistants. After a while, these assistants realize that there is a heavy cost to being successful enough to be an assistant to a corporate president. It is assumed that these assistants make good money yet, amazingly, there is never a mention of salaries in the play. Employees often talk of salaries in such close quarters.

The toll on these folks includes Daniel firing one for a small error as these folks realize that their daily tasks are so pointless and mundane that doing them can either drive one to run from their desk in tears, or they can make one laugh and mock the absurdity of their tasks. This play dramatizes that frustration nicely.

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Playwright Leslye Headland has created a group of mostly unlikable characters: Vince and Nick are obnoxious and narcissistic; Nora is an idealist while Heather is too emotional and Justin is a cold functionary. Add the English-accented Jenny (Hilary Williams) and we have  little to cheer for.

Much of the show consists of the assistants talking on the phone to Daniel and his contacts. That can become annoying. But we see how the degrading work can wear out the weak yet salary is not considered into the decision to leave by one of the assistants. Ambition and self esteem dominate.

While the play flows effectively, Headland can’t seem to figure out how to end the play so she resorts to a weirdly invented scene that finds Jenny drunk as she staggers around the office, martini in hand, as she dances to loud disco music while she trashed the office. Where did that come from?

Assistance has its moments; the actors were strong, especially Brian Crawford and Lauren Fisher.  But they work moves toward a conclusion that never seems to evolve. Young corporate types may find this play relevant.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: February 14,2014

For more info checkout the Assistance page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Storefront Theatre,  66 E, Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 312-533-4666, nickandnora.brownpapertickets.com, tickets $15, $12 students/seniors,  Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays t 2 pm, running time is 1hour, 40 minutes without intermission, through march 16, 2014

 

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