BWW Review: IDEATION: Is It Only a Test?
Written by Aaron Loeb, Directed by Jim Petosa; Scenic Designer, Ryan Bates; Costume Designer, Penney Pinette; Lighting Designer, Bridget K. Doyle; Sound Designer & Composer, Dewey Dellay; Stage Manager, Brian M. Robillard
New Repertory Theatre opens its season with Ideation, the Boston-area premiere of Aaron Loeb's play that is equally thrilling and disturbing as we try to adapt to the rapidly changing normal in America. With an unpredictable neophyte at the helm of our ship of state, a legislative body in a perilous state of gridlock, and the 24-hour news cycle constantly bombarding us with information, our ability to separate fact from fallacy, as well as our resilience, is being tested. Loeb's characters find themselves in a high-stakes situation that may or may not be a test, and their capacity to work together is threatened by creeping doubt and mistrust.
Now that I have your attention, the somewhat mysterious description that I have just laid out reflects the way the playwright draws the audience into his story. I found my head spinning in the opening minutes of the play as a quartet of top-tier management consultants kibitz about a task they are to undertake. With a conference table and large white board as their playing field, they toss around business terms and corporate jargon like nerf balls, but barely mention any specifics about their project. Gradually and casually, bits and pieces of their unconventional assignment bleed into the dialogue, but it takes awhile for us to absorb what we're hearing. Due to the nature of the mysterious project, no details will be disclosed here other than to say that the solution the team is asked to devise for a hypothetical problem challenges them morally and ethically, as a team and as individuals.
Ideation is an attention-grabber, smartly written and surprisingly funny (read: dark humor), considering the subject matter. Artistic Director Jim Petosa knows he has a great cast and lets them run with the inclinations of their characters, but he uses his skill to build the tension and weave it around the laughs until we're not really sure if the plot is supposed to be scary or absurd. (Loeb throws in more than a few red herrings.) The actors are on board, playing it straight and never tipping their hands as to what is truth and what is fallacy. Christine Hamel, Ed Hoopman, Lewis D. Wheeler, and Matt Ketai as the team of management consultants, and Jake Murphy in a small, but critical role, give captivating performances and will keep you guessing.
The scenic design by Ryan Bates is one of the stars of the show, as its pattern of crisscrossing lines form multiple angles to reflect the many possibilities debated by the consulting team. The set and costume design (Penney Pinette) suggest that things may appear to be black and white, but are permeated by grey, and Bridget K. Doyle's lighting design varies according to the mood in the room, sometimes muted, sometimes starkly bright, but never giving anyone a place to hide. Sound designer/composer Dewey Dellay raises the paranoia quotient when the disembodied voice of the CEO comes into the room.
Ideation raises a lot of questions; some are hypothetical, some are existential, but none of them are easy to answer either in the play or in the real world. First performed in 2012, it is startling to consider its relevance in our current social and political climate. These characters are charged with crafting a solution for what they believe is an unimaginable event. However, as we are learning on a daily basis, the unimaginable may become the new normal. Or is it only a test?