BWW Reviews: Black Lab Theatre's ASSISTANCE is Witty and Relateable
The satiric ASSISTANCE enjoyed a solid run in 2012 with its New York City premiere at Playwrights Horizons and is currently in the process of being adapted for a television series by NBC. Before Nick, Nora, and their always-traveling, overbearing boss Daniel Weisinger appear on your television screens, Black Lab Theatre is producing the regional premiere of the play. In the 90-minute one act play, Daniel Weisinger is a powerful über-magnate worthy of study and apparently utter admiration, which allures young employees to face incessant embarrassments and sacrifice their individual personhood just to be associated with perceived greatness. The language and tone is biting and acerbic from start to finish. The plot is thin, the pacing superb, and the exactness of the mirror help up to the Generation Y audience ridiculously pristine.
Direction by Jordan Jaffe is clever, making the production ring with insightful honesty. Charles Isherwood bemoaned that the audience never sees nor hears Daniel Weisinger in his New York Times review, but I found this element intriguing. I applaud Black Lab Theatre and Jordan Jaffe for not contriving their production to include a visual appearance of the character. His absence makes him more detestable and loathsome. Jordan Jaffe ensures that our pathos commiserate with the disgruntled, miserable characters we do see, making Daniel Weisinger into one hell of a fire-breathing dragon monster boss that has no power for sympathy, compassion, decency, or social skills.If anything, Leslye Headland's weakness in ASSITANCE is her characters' limited arcs. The spirited Rebekah Stevens Gibbs brings the ambitious and overachieving Nora to life. Initially, her character is willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the opportunity to be near Daniel Weisinger. Her chipper, go-get-'em exterior falters as she is ridiculed and made to apologize for any myriad of minor to substantial misdoings in the merry-go-round of phone calls that occur in the script. Undergoing the largest character change in the play, Rebekah Stevens Gibbs delivers Nora's total mental and emotional breakdown with stirring poignancy as she desperately exclaims, "I hate it here, and I don't want to leave!"
Nick, played with heartwarming and affable personality by Adam Gibbs, never becomes anything more than your stereotypical office goof. He's lazy and unproductive. His strongest skills are masterfully passing the buck and being an encyclopedia for viral videos. He has a goofy charm that interests and engages the audience, keeping us linked in to the play for the duration of its run. Yet, it is his final actions and their meaning to the individuals that experience the play that will keep audiences talking for some time to come.
The eternal frat boy Vince, slickly played by Jordan Jaffe, advises Nick to have his exit strategy in full swing, after which we get a monologue from Vince where he quips lines like "Better to look good than feel good" and tells some anonymous person about his sexual desires brought on by his stroked ego. Hardworking and "borderline suicidal" Heather, played by Lindsay Ehrhardt, is constantly stressed because her attempts to please everyone please no one. She reveals she took the job with Daniel Weisinger so her mother would be proud of her. Lastly, Emily Campion's British accented Jenny and Tim Ashby's Justin are both sycophantic followers of their boss, doing whatever they can to get a leg up on the competition in hopes of being Lead Assistant.
I attended the final dress rehearsal of ASSISTANCE and was amazed at how taut the show already was. The production was in fantastic shape, effortlessly leaping from joke to joke at a perfected pace. Set changes happened with rehearsed ease, and from what I could see, the production is definitely prepared for a healthy run in Houston. Black Lab Theatre's production of Leslye Headland's ASSISTANCE had me both laughing and thinking during the show and the whole way home.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
ASSISTANCE, produced by Black Lab Theatre, plays at the Wildfish Theatre, 1703 D-1 Post Oak Boulevard, Houston, 77056 now through October 5, 2013. Performances are Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Monday September 30 at 8:00pm. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.blacklabtheater.com or call (713) 515-4028.
Photos by Pin Lim. Courtesy of Black Lab Theatre.
Adam Gibbs as Nick.
Jordan Jaffe as Vince.
Adam Gibbs as Nick & Tim Ashby as Justin.
Emily Campion as Jenny.