|Cassie Beck, Darren Goldstein, Nelson Lee. Photo:T.Charles Erickson|
A Play About The Great Recession Triggers Questions, Depression
By Lauren Yarger
It's 2009 and the age of corporate downsizing, stimulus packages that don't work and angst in the office. Other than remind us that job security still is at an all-time low, The Consultant by Heidi Schreck, which is getting a world premiere at Long Wharf Theatre, does little else except leave us with a depressing realization that the economy doesn't look much better five years later.
The Dow may be plunging, but angst is at an all-time high at the pharmaceutical advertising company of Sutton, Feingold and McGrath where recent layoffs have the remaining employees pinning their hopes to an all-important presentation coming up by Jun Suk (Nelson Lee). The only problem is that the adman isn’t very personable and had a meltdown during his last presentation. For some reason, he is terrified about having to stand in front of people (yes, standing is the problem, not necessarily making the presentation, though we never find out why).
Enter consultant Amelia (Claire Barron), fresh off of her studies at NYU. After offending the Korean-American because she thinks she has been hired to help him learn English as a second language, the effervescent, but inexperienced youth dedicates herself to helping Jun Suk with his presentation skills (after rebuffing his sad attempt to ask her out. He’s going through a divorce and she’s a lesbian, so it wouldn’t have worked any way. Why did this seem so cliché and unnecessary to the plot?)
Amelia meets weekly with Jun Suk (we know this because the dates of the scenes are flashed on a video screen in the conference room visible through a glass wall just off of the sleek reception area designed by Andrew Boyce) and finds herself in the middle of office intrigue. Receptionist Tania (Cassie Beck) clearly doesn’t enjoy working with rude Jun Suk, but might be interested in his boss, Mark (Darren Goldstein). She finally takes him up on one of his flirtatious offers to have dinner and some sex in the restaurant restroom. They might just have something developing in the way of a caring relationship….
Meanwhile, Amelia is interested in spending time with Tania too, but it isn’t clear if she wants friendship or romance. She becomes a sounding board for Tania when she needs to make some decisions about her relationship with Mark in the face of some unexpected personal and professional news.
Amelia also receives a perk from her experience at the ad firm: a free consultation with Barbara (Lynne McCollough), who shows up at the office after having left Sutton, Feingold and McGrath to start her own business. The older woman offers some life coaching advice about not getting stuck in the story we tell ourselves.
The bigger message – I think -- is about how we let our jobs and the economy that controls them shape our lives and the decisions we make. The play, directed by Kip Fagan, never gets much below the surface of that, however. Characters don’t develop beyond the basics. We don’t get to know any of them well enough to decide whether we like them much – not unlike surface relationships we might develop at the office.
Is it office humor? An office romance: A friendship piece for the two women? A thoughtful piece about getting older in the workplace and seizing opportunity? A number of these themes have cameos, but don’t get promoted to the executive suite. The Consultant might be one of those few plays that should extend beyond its 90-minute-no-intermission run time and explore its characters and situations more fully. As it is, we’re left with the depressing thought that the economy hasn’t developed any better in the last seven years than this play (with a timeline in the program showing unemployment and foreclosure rates to back it up).
The Consultant is employed through Feb. 9 at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Tickets range from $40-$70 and performance times vary: www.longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.