The desperate lives of office workers are explored in Assistance, an edgy comedy being presented by Epic Theatre Company at Theatre 82 in Cranston. The show opened February 7 and runs through the 22nd.
Written by Leslye Headland, the play is set in the office of Daniel Weisinger, an extremely wealthy and powerful man who runs roughshod over his hapless assistants, Nick (Jonathan Fisher), Nora (Kerry Giorgi), Justin (Michael Shallcross), Heather (Allie Meek), Vince (Sean Carufel), and Jenny ( Amanda Grossi). Weisinger is never seen or heard, although his presence looms large throughout the play.
Weisinger’s subordinates spend their days answering the phones, running errands, sending e-mails and bantering about their dreams and ambitions. Nick likes to crack jokes and put humorous spins on Nora’s name. He hates his job and hopes for a promotion.
“Should I be scared?” Nora asks Nick one day.
“Working for Daniel is like living the last 30 minutes of Goodfellas,” Nick replies.
Nora tells Nick that Daniel is her hero. She has spent years trying to emulate him and wants to make the best of her new job opportunity.
Over the course of the play’s 84 minutes, the characters undergo some dramatic transformations. The power of Assistance is in seeing how the underlings react to each other and their boss’ increasingly disrespectful behavior.
Assistance was directed by Ross Gavlin. He has a good sense of pacing and manages to draw spirited performances from the actors.
Giorgi is riveting as Nora, who is so earnest in her desire to please Daniel. This is a woman who has sacrificed her own life for a man who could care less about her needs.
The characters are all basically sad people. Nick uses insults to mask his own insecurities and fears. Fisher is effective when Nick vents his deep anger about the power structure in the office. In blunt terms, Nick lashes out at Nora and Heather.
Heather and Justin each have scenes when they explain how important it is for them to work for Daniel Weisinger. The man’s approval is like a drug to them.
One of the most powerful moments comes late in the play when Justin screams at his therapist over the phone. He has suffered a broken foot after being run over by Daniel’s limousine. Shallcross is brilliant as he portrays Justin’s rage.
“I’ve seen greatness, I’m next to brilliance every day,” Justin explains. “And it needs to be defended constantly. He needs to be protected from nobodies LIKE YOU!”
Headland’s dialogue is tart and crackles with wit. Assistance captures the tedium and insanity of life in a modern office. The constant sounds of telephones buzzing and overlapping conversations punctuate the characters’ inner turmoil.
Assistance reveals how America’s ruling elite is capable of dehumanizing the people who work for them in their offices and factories. Their maids, secretaries, butlers, chauffeurs and office managers are treated like so much disposable trash. The greatest sadness is in seeing the dreams of ordinary people shattered under the weight of their own delusions.
This is a gritty look at life in the American workplace and is recommended for audiences searching for a mirror of contemporary society.
Assistance runs through February 22. The Artists’ Exchange/Theatre 82. 82 Rolfe Square, Cranston,RI. For more information, go to www.artists-exchange.org. or www.epictheatreri.org.