BWW Reviews: THE PROGRAM ASSISTANT at Capital Fringe Explores Post-Grad Life in DC
It wasn't so long ago that I was one of those 20-somethings in DC armed with an international affairs degree, and ready to get my first 'real' job in this city of power and prestige. In that sense, I was probably a solid audience member for John Krizel's contemporary look at post-grad life in DC, The Program Assistant. However, while Krizel has a solid idea at the center of The Program Assistant - and one that's likely to resonate with at least a portion of the local Capital Fringe audience - he has a ways to go before the script and the resulting production matches the strength of the baseline idea.
When we meet Charlie (Abigail Casey) and Laura (Katie Ryan), they're newly minted graduates of George Washington University. They're confident that their internship experience, Arabic skills, and experience abroad will put them in good standing in finding employment in DC. With a new apartment and some eagerness to find full-time employment to pay for said apartment, they set out on a job search with the goal of finding one in their career field in three weeks (because, you know, that's realistic in this career field). Charlie, in particular, has to meet this goal to satisfy her parents. When the two girls apply for the same program assistant job at the Office of Trafficking in Persons at the State Department - and one gets it (the one - go figure - without experience in the subject area) - it complicates their friendship. One starts out a career at State and another works at a restaurant with their other friend, Rachel (Amanda Spellman - the only actor who displays any kind of pizazz and presence in the cast). As they meet and are influenced by new co-workers along the way, the two girls learn valuable lessons about the challenges of post-grad life in DC. They begin to take a closer look at what they really want their futures to look like both personally and professionally.
Even if one puts aside some of the unrealistic components of the script (particularly, you know, the time it takes to get a job in the US Government, the way hiring is conducted, the nature of business/turnover at State), what we have - at least in terms of execution - is a not particularly interesting story filled with not particularly interesting people. While it may be necessary to have the two cookie cutter (though probably somewhat relatable) girls at the center of the story for the script to work, watching them go about their lives can only be interesting for so long because the script lacks any punch. Additionally, the co-workers that enter their lives - the State intern with high level connections (Paul Lysek), the restaurant worker who eschews the value of higher education (Steve Isaac), and the yoga-loving and always traveling mid-level State Department employee (Milica Bogetic) - fall into neat stereotypes and only exist as a means to propel the two girls' mundane (yet sometimes implausible) stories along.
A decision to tell the story in a series of quick scenes broken up by blackouts and seemingly complicated set changes is undoubtedly a poor one. While it's unclear removing them would make the show any more interesting, their inclusion does make for a choppy production filled with fits and starts. It's entirely possible that removing them would shorten the bloated runtime to less than an hour. While Ryan and Casey are completely adequate, they don't have much to work with in terms of their characters. If I am supposed to believe the two are so supremely qualified for work in their field of interest (and one beat out hundreds or even thousands for a State job), are among the best George Washington University has to offer, and have a drive to do amazing in their career no matter the odds, it didn't work out so well.
As far as the technical aspects, the use of projections featuring social media status updates did well to get a few laughs and further emphasize these girls are living in the here and now. However, even those sometimes humorous status updates about #statedepartmentproblems could not save the show from being duller than dull.
Running Time: 75 minutes.
"The Program Assistant" is being presented as part of the Capital Fringe Festival at the Redrum at Fort Fringe - 612 L Street, NW in Washington, DC - through July 27. For show schedules and ticket information, consult the show page on the Capital Fringe website.
Graphic: Courtesy of Capital Fringe website.