Assistance

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    February 1, 2012
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    I used to work for a guy who was at one time a mucky-muck manager/producer in Hollywood. His best days were behind him, but his need for a personal assistant was still vibrant. My duties were to type up his phone messages, open his mail, make certain that he always had a date for lunch as well as dinner and never, ever spent his weekends alone. Oh – I also had to go through stack of resume shots he received nearly every day and toss out all but the pictures of the very young women. He went through that group himself and picked the ones he would invite over for an interview.

    I lasted six months.

    This turned out to be a record. After I left Mr. B the boss at a personnel agency looked at my resume, noted the six months and announced to her staff that if they threw me into a piranha pit I would probably come out on the winning end. A few weeks later a well known actor told me that because I lasted such a stretch of time with Mr. B. I was probably qualified to run a small country.

    So when I am asked to believe that people would throw away years of their lives to work as an assistant for a man who thinks of assistants as something on which to snack – I have a little trouble.

    That being said, there are some beyond terrific performances here. Trip Cullman cast some phenomenal actors and together they have wrung every iota of playable moments out of Leslye Headland’s script.

    The opening is terrific. Vince (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), the most recent top dog on the Assistant ladder has achieved Nirvana. He is going “Across The Hall.” This is where people go to get a firm hold on the first rung of the ladder that will lead them to the plateau where they will become the boss they presently despise. He is bidding farewell to Nick (Michael Esper) who is about to replace him, and discussing the new assistant who has been waiting in the lobby for four hours. It is 8:00 at night (the clock only moves when the scenes change) and suddenly there is an incoming call from Daniel Weisinger, THE BOSS, who apparently has trouble dialing anything other than his office. After belittling Vince, Daniel demands to be transferred to someone who cannot be found on the first try. After a second attempt the transfer is made from Nick to Vince and then to Daniel. It is a feat lacking only pyrotechnics. In this scene we know everything we need to know about these two men as well as their boss. The play could end right there.

    Instead we meet four more assistants who are ready to throw themselves under the bus to have a chance to work in Daniel’s office. As a matter of fact the first, Nora (Virginia Kull) – get it? Nick and Nora? – finally arrives and offers to sub for Nick all day Saturday in spite of the fact that she has not had one shred of training. Note to author: this would never happen. A year later Heather (Sue Jean Kim) has joined the team and is fired for messing up expense reports and also for being a jangling collection of nerve endings. Justin (Bobby Steggert) puts in a late appearance and executes a lightning round on the phone with his therapist, going from zero to sixty in about three minutes. Jenny (Amy Rosoff) is the final relief pitcher who we all agree might be the perfect match for Daniel because she is certifiable.

    But as I said this all takes place over a time period of more than two years. Nick and Nora (almost) stay on the job for all that time. It defies logic – just as their invisible boss does. Well, perhaps the idea doesn’t, but the writing here does not support the thesis. After the first scene there are no real surprises. One after another gaff is committed that nearly gives the absent Daniel a stroke and, via the trickle down theory, causes the same to his staff. It happens over and over and over. There is no beginning, middle and end to this tale. There is just more of the same. It’s like a banquet that features the same basic dish at every serving.

    Although the directing and acting are superb, it is not enough to raise the flag on this ship. This tale stays anchored in the harbor.

    "Thin-as-a-Post-it-note play."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "Fast-paced, gutsy and good-looking."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Blistering new comedy."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Director Trip Cullman elicits powerful performances from the tight six-person ensemble."
    Suzy Evans for Back Stage

    "Little of it resonates beyond intermittent amusement."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "More a situation than a fully realized play."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "It's all surface and no core"
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety<.p>External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter - Variety