Review: THE ALLSTORE at Theatre Of NOTE

Workplace drama aplenty in NOTE world premiere.

By: Mar. 16, 2024
Review: THE ALLSTORE at Theatre Of NOTE
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Envision stepping into your average Costco, Target, Kmart or – shudder! – Walmart. Now shake up the kaleidoscope and picture yourself employed there, dealing with all manner of irritating customers who come in with surly attitudes and badly-behaved kids, in search of everything from patio furniture to Tampax, from cold medication to bulk candy. Imagine doing this every day after day after maddening day.

Whether or not he has personally ever put himself through this, Evan Marshall has imagined life from the floor of a big box store and infused it – literally – with poetry. That’s right, in Marshall’s ALLSTORE, at Theatre of NOTE, Petra (played by Arianna Evangelia) the play’s central character, is a 20-year-old employee who both studies poetry and also recites it to some of her fellow floor workers. Most notably to Andrea (Lillie Silva-Muir), the cage fighter with whom Petra is in love. “You have a real way with words,” a conflicted Andrea replies. “You should write that kind of shit down.”

Part love story, part workers unite-inspired corporate dramady, ALLSTORE hits some satisfying beats. Director Maddie Downs and her smartly-assembled NOTE cast are having a good old time with this likeable play, up until they hit us with a disappointing ending that takes the proceedings off the rails. Notwithstanding, ALLSTORE – like much of this company’s work – has much to recommend it. Fans of the late, great Justin Spitzer TV sitcom SUPERSTORE may experience nostalgia.

The men and women of the Walmart-esque ALLStore are a motley crew. You’ve got corporate yes men and women who have been stocking shelves and dealing with returns for going on 20 years. You’ve got paycheck-cashing stiffs trying to cash paychecks, and younger employees who are just passing through and aren’t above testing or (or breaking) every company policy they encounter. Weed at work? Why wouldn’t I?

And of course you’ve got management in the form of harried HR director Melissa (played by Julie Lanctot), who routinely gets dumped on, but who does not have the same authority as store manager Blake (Joseph Bricker), and is therefore plenty resentful. Blake has a twin brother, Blair, a heavy-handed cop who periodically shows up to mete out security.

Nametags and/or branded vests at the ready, the company of Evangelia, Bricker, Lanctot, Phil Ward, Lynn Odell, Sylva-Muir, Mario Eduardo, Joshua Gill and Sarah Lily make up a “family” that you might encounter at a big box. Whether cleaning up, stocking shelves (scenic designer Colin Lawrence’s shifting array of displays effectively evokes something Target-like) goofing off or getting in each other’s faces, these actors inhabit their personas. The play runs a compact 100 minutes, but Marshall has written these characters with care and, for the most part, Downs’ cast brings them smartly to life. (Note: Silva-Muir shares the role with Mikah Kavia and Ward shares the role of Oliver with Dan Wingard.)    

As in any family, there is discord. Because Petra is young, smart and not prone to making waves, Blake figures she is the most easily molded, so he promotes her to floor manager, hopefully to get the other slackers under control.  This move backfires as Petra proves to have dash of Norma Rae in her bloodstream. The floor manager power play coincides with Andrea (who Blake detests) taking a day off to fight an important match. Petra’s somewhat Faustian arrangement with corporate has allowed this to happen without Andrea losing her job.

Evangelia and Silva-Muir are believable and charismatic enough to keep us in their corner, particularly when they’re confronting the Melissas and Blakes of the world. From the first word out of his mouth, Bricker’s Blake is so sleazily despicable that any attempt to muddy the thematic waters and humanize the corporate argument is in vain. “You’re a bad person,” Petra tells Blake at one point, Damned straight, but he’s more than that. In the unabashedly pro-worker agenda that is ALLSTORE, Blake is a straw man which every single AllStore employee – and more than a few audience members – would happily light on fire.

Workplace humiliation can tread a reedy line between comedy and wince-inducing. Amidst plenty of humor, Marshall has also written some uncomfortable scenes, and there is nothing the least bit funny about the ALLSTORE’s grim and quite violent ending. I found it forced and melodramatic. Others may regard it as poetic justice. Clearly when the bastards confront the bards in a big box, there is bound to be blood.

Regardless, ALLSTORE is worth a visit.

THE ALLSTORE plays through April 7 at  1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.

Photo of Arianna Evangelia and Lillie Silva-Muir courtesy of Theatre of NOTE


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