BWW Review: Keegan Theatre's WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST a Hip Comedy Classic
If there ever was a show that captured the edginess of this election season, it's Theresa Rebeck's howler of a comedy, What We're Up Against. In Susan Marie Rhea's brilliant staging, Rebeck's whip-smart sense of humor is on full display. And given the battle-of-the-sexes plotline, it is without question the one show that Hilary Clinton and her staff need to see-they'll know every character on-stage. They'll also recognize the futility of a highly-qualified woman forced to struggle against male mediocrity.
The struggle continues, but this one is a classic.
Set in a testosterone-laden architectural firm, the manager Stu (the hilariously profane Peter Finnegan) is dealing with his worst nightmare: a new hire, a woman, whose designs leave everyone else's in the dust. Stu unburdens himself on Ben (the quietly devious Michael Innocenti, a brilliant straight man if there ever was one). Stu rages against her talent, indulging in every castration fantasy imaginable in language that might even prick up David Mamet's ears.
At the heart of the plot is a design for a mall renovation that is past due: it was given by Stu to his protégé, Weber, a true BS artist who clearly has no idea what to do with piffling details like doors, walls, let alone ductwork. As Weber, Stephen Russell Murray treats us to a study in clueless, talentless vanity that is without parallel. (You'd smack him silly, but it's hard to laugh your tail off and throw a punch at the same time...)
We meet Eliza-Brianne LeTourneau, in another star turn-whose brilliance at design is matched by her own gift for profanity. No shrinking violet, she rails against Stu's blatant chauvinism and unburdens her own self to Janice (Carolyn Kashner, at the top of her comedic game), hoping to form a political alliance with the only other woman in the office.
This being the 21st century, Janice rebuffs these attempts at sisterhood-why? Because if you ask any professional woman (I'm married to one), there is no sisterhood. It's one of those chauvinistic male myths that Rebeck skewers brilliantly here, and it's about time. Once Eliza realizes she's on her own and must promote her work by any means necessary, she must plot her next moves carefully indeed.
Matthew Keenan's set is all architecture-floor plans walls, blueprint floor, which sets the stage nicely for Carol H. Baker's dumpy, wanna-be-trendy office details. Alison Samantha Johnson has created a fine variety of costumes, my favorite being Finnegan's Stu, who is decked out in a hideously tacky orange shirt with socks that make their own discreet comment on the character's utter lack of tastE. Johnson also makes a point of having LeTourneau's Eliza in plain, professional wear and discreet-to-invisible makeup, in stark contrast to Kashner's showy ensemble complete with heavy shadow and eyeliner (thanks to Craig Miller).
What gives this production its zest isn't just Rebeck's crackling dialogue and the cast's spot-on delivery, it's Rhea's attention to the finer details of stage business and choreography. You know you're in good hands when even pouring a cup of coffee gets a laugh of its own, and stirring said cup of joe sets the house rolling.
Exquisitely timed for the final run to the White House, Keegan Theatre has produced a whopping good time. Comparisons between the characters onstage and the candidates and talking heads we have to live with for the next month or so, well, they'll be inevitable. And Madeline Clamp's sound design sets each scene with a combination of Mad Men tacky and modern hipsterdom-everything from the Rolling Stones to Robin Thicke, and all on the theme of keeping women under one's, er, thumb.
Audience advisory: although the show centers on sexism as opposed to sexual harassment, the language may be a bit too colorful for sainted, colorless ears. You can plug your ears half the time, or save yourself the trouble by watching Fox News instead.
What We're Up Against plays at the Church Street Theatre September 24-October 15. For Tickets please email Keegan at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: http://keegantheatre.com/plan-your-visit/tickets/ .