Photo Flash: Susan Louise O'Connor and More in Zootopia Theatre's THE WHY OVERHEAD
While the boss is away, the workers will play. At a call center, all the employees are desperate to connect with each other, seek greater meaning in their lives and take their desires to extremes. The results are shocking and funny. Sam is in love with Violet, a customer who called once with a warranty question, and he smashes all barriers to rendezvous with her. Alan and Sid are blinded in their rivalry for Jessica; together, they build a decorative glass window over her cubicle to worship her under. Annie (Susan Louise O’Connor) and Nigel have a hate-hate relationship and plot each other's demise. Karen, the department head, plays hookey, hiding at home and making plans with her talking dog to abandon the working world for the hobo's life. Donald, the office manager, is home too, plotting revenge for being canned. By the end of the day, the business is in tatters and everyone is frantic for the CEO to sweep in and make everything right, because that's what CEO's do, right?
Adam Szymkowicz's comedies exhibit a wacky humor that is grounded in the compulsive honesty of the characters. Everyone seems to lack an emotional filter, as if they were voicing their thoughts, unaware that others could hear them. Their dialogue is spare, earnest and very dry. Szymkowicz says most of his plays are about romantic relationships and he relishes writing about them in different contexts, referring to his "Hearts Likes Fists," which opened July 28 at Theater of Note in Los Angeles, as a "comic book relationship play" (since it deals with comic book characters) and "The Why Overhead" as an "office relationship play."
Szymkowicz's better known plays include "Nerve," "Food for Fish" and "Deflowering Waldo," published by Dramatists Play Service and "Pretty Theft," published by Samuel French. His work has been presented or developed at MCC Theater, Ars Nova, South Coast Rep, Playwrights Horizons, LAByrinth Theater Company and Primary Stages, among others. The Baltimore City Paper declared, “Szymkowicz is a gifted young playwright with an imagination on overdrive." The New York Times has reviewed three of his plays since 2006. "Nerve" (14th Street Y Theater, 2006) was characterized as "a sweet, sexy, neurotic-friendly date comedy." "Food for Fish" (Kraine Theater, 2006), a play loosely inspired by Chekhov’s “Three Sisters," was described as a "fabulously weird and weirdly fabulous new comedy." On "Pretty Theft" (Flux Theater Ensemble at Access Theater, 2009), the Times wrote, "Mr. Szymkowicz writes quirky plays about contemporary topics like online dating and gender roles, but there always seems to be something--a knife, a rope, a dead body--in an unexpected place." All three reviews were by Anita Gates.
"The Why Overhead" was inspired by some crazy temp jobs Szymkowicz had after the crash in 2008. In one, he answered phones in a Minneapolis call center and was entranced by his fellow employees' impulses to "check out" while on the job, their reactions to being forced out and their determination to make career choices in some other direction. He was "blessedly delivered" from the job when he got a TV writing gig and moved to Atlanta for five months, which will probably be the subject of another play some day.
Mr. Szymkowicz (the name is pronounced "Simkowitz") now lives in Brooklyn with his wife, playwright Kristen Palmer. He grew up in Colchester, CT, near East Haddam, where he attended Bacon Academy, a public school that dates back to 1803. He graduated from UMass Dartmouth and subsequently earned a Playwright's Diploma from The Juilliard School's Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program and an MFA from Columbia, where he was the Dean's Fellow. He is a two-time Lecomte du Nouy Prize winner, a member of the Dramatists Guild, WGA, Primary Stages' Dorothy Strelsin New American Writer's Group, the MCC Playwright's Coalition and was a founding member of the Ars Nova Play Group. He has been a Playwright in Residence at the William Inge Center, received a grant from the CT Commission on Culture & Tourism, and was commissioned by South Coast Rep. He was the premiere Resident Playwright at The Chance Theater in Anaheim, CA and the first playwright to participate in Bloomington Playwrights Projects' Square One Series. His website is www.adamszymkowicz.com. On his blog, he has interviewed 479 playwrights over three-and-a-half years.
Zootopia Theatre Company (www.zootopiatheatre.org) made an auspicious debut in 2007 with "Professional Skepticism" by James Rasheed, presented at the Abingdon Theatre Complex. The play is a dark comedy about an accounting scandal set in a Big Five CPA firm in Charleston. In 2008, the troupe presented "Still the River Runs" by Barton Bishop at Center Stage, NY in Chelsea. The play is a hilarious and moving portrait of two estranged brothers in rural Florida who heist their deceased grandfather's body and put him to rest in the wilds of their old hunting grounds. In 2009, the troupe mounted "Eminene" by Barton Bishop in the NY International Fringe Festival, a harrowing science fiction tale. With "The Why Overhead," the company returns to comedy, which seems to be its forte.
Matthew J. Nichols (Director) is founder and Co-Artistic Director of Zootopia Theatre Company and has an MFA in Acting from Brandeis University. As a director, he has overseen productions of "The House of Blue Leaves," "The Zoo Story," "Of Mice and Men" and "Without a Song," an original script he also wrote. He directed Zootopia's well-received productions of "Eminene" and "Still the River Runs." The latter was nominated for six NYIT awards, including Outstanding Direction and Production of a Play.
The actors include Susan Louise O'Connor (Theatre World Award winner for "Blythe Spirit" on Broadway, Off Broadway: Urban Stages, Lucille Lortel, Soho Playhouse), Matthew Murumba ("Kofi"– 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Flux Theatre Ens., The Flea) Scott Thomas (The Tank, Denver Center, Long Wharf) , Jeffrey Emerson (Theatre of Note, Ohio Theater, The Flea), Alexandra Hellquist (Extant Arts, FringeNYC, La Mama ETC) Heather Hollingsworth (NYTW, The Kraine), Larry Phillips, David Bennett (The Flea), Rowan Michael Meyer (IRT, The Flea), Cotton Wright (Flux Theatre Ens.), Britney Burgess (Zootopia Theatre Co.), and Ken Glickfeld (Atlantic Theater Co., American Globe). Set and Lighting design is by Andrew Lu.
Zootopia Theatre Company presents "The Why Overhead" September 6 to 23 (previews Sept. 6-8; opens Sept. 9) at Access Theater, 380 Broadway (at White St.), 4th Fl. Shows are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. To buy tickets contact Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com.
Photos by Jonathan Slaff.
Rowan Meyer and Susan Louise O'Connor
Scott Thomas, Alexandra Hellquist, Matthew Murumba
Heather Hollingsworth and Larry Phillips