BWW Review: World Premiere of Working Theater's DROPPING GUMBALLS ON LUKE WILSON
Dropped calls are the worst--unless you're Luke Wilson, and then dropped gumballs cause a bigger headache. Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson ricochets plenty of candy and themes, but in its 75 minutes, this thin workplace-humor production doesn't give us enough to chew on.
The inspiration for this world-premiere play emerged from a quirky 2010 telecom commercial. The play goes beyond recreating the commercial shoot; it provides a peek into the idiosyncratic culture of creative art clashing with corporate commerce.
Written by Rob Ackerman and directed by Theresa Rebeck, Dropping is set on a contemporary Brooklyn soundstage, taking us behind the scenes of an AT&T smartphone commercial shoot. It explores the tension and trauma created when a time-sensitive work assignment needing utmost precision suffers from both technical difficulties and a demanding director's unrelenting vision. Anyone who has worked for a domineering boss, or who has been pelted in a professional pecking order, can relate.
In the dubious "how did this ever get made?" commercial, actor/spokesperson Luke Wilson (Legally Blonde, Old School, Idiocracy, The Royal Tenenbaums), stands in front of a huge map of the United States that's saturated with red dots (Verizon's service areas). As Wilson starts touting AT&T's advantages, the dots/balls drop gradually and then torrentially.
In the play, "Luke Wilson" (Jonathan Sale) receives star treatment from Ken, the seasoned special effects master (Dean Nolen); Rob, the (jittery) effects best boy (George Hampe); and especially Jenny, a smitten entry-level props person who's wise beyond her years (Reyna de Courcy). Hampe is manic and endearing; de Courcy shines as an earnest and unjaded link to sanity.
As these dedicated professionals try to make the seemingly unworkable plan work, they rely on the assistant director running the show, Alice (Ann Harada). She takes her job very seriously, especially the gumballs:
ANN: "No nicks or scratches, nice and red. They're the heroes. Sort them after each take, keep the good ones, chuck the bad ones."
Complicating matters is the presence of Oscar-winning American documentarian Errol Morris (David Wohl), who commands compliance not by being belligerent, but by staying calm, cool, collected and conniving:
ERROL: "How many gumballs you think you can take, Luke? Five, ten, fifteen? They're just candy."
LUKE: "But they're hard, they're like little rocks, and--"
ERROL: "Can you not handle it?"
LUKE: "It's not that I can't handle it, Errol, I just don't wanna get brain damage."
Initially, Sale stays smooth as a gentle, professional, donut-eating Luke Wilson doppelgänger. Eventually, though, even likable Luke reaches his pain threshold, and weaponizes gumballs against the well-intentioned but rapidly-losing-confidence Rob.
And big props to Addison Heeren (Properties), whose gumballs give this show its authentic bounce: these are not standard-size (think marbles) gumballs, but rather jumbo-sized (think golf balls).
I'll admit it: watching an avalanche of gumballs (ouch!) bounce off of Luke Wilson's head was funny in a slapstick way. That being said, the concept of a human pachinko machine repurposed from a 30-second telecom commercial was not enough to sustain my emotional interest in this show.
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg