LiveWire Chicago Theatre at DCASE Storefront Theater. By Leslye Headland. Directed by Joshua Aaron Weinstein. With Brian Crawford, Lauren Fisher, John Taflan, Krista D'Agostino, Matthew Nerber, Hilary Williams. 1hr 45mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Take a second to recall the worst, most demanding boss you ever worked for. Multiply their levels of abusiveness and neediness by a power of ten, and you have Daniel Weisinger, the unseen mogul whose moneyed whims drive the frenzied team of assistants at his beck and call in Leslye Headland’s pointed 2012 play.
Headland—who, it should be noted, once worked as a personal assistant to Harvey Weinstein—is interested in what makes these overworked, underpaid strivers so willing to devote their lives around the clock to a man who rarely shows them anything other than contempt, playing his assistants against one another. That’s when they’re not treating the job like a competition themselves, of course. “Insults build character,” new girl Nora (a winning Lauren Fisher) tells herself after enduring her first phone tirade.
The play tracks the comings and goings in Weisinger’s outside office over a couple of years. (The set by Anders Jacobson and Judy Radovsky cleverly places the assistants in a sunken reception area, so that like Daniel, the audience is constantly hovering over them.) Nora slides from eager enthusiasm to a dead-behind-the-eyes, single-minded stress creature.
Her relationship with her immediate superior Nick (the likable Brian E. Crawford), who coasts along hoping desperately to get promoted across the hall like his predecessor Vince (John Taflan), forms the show’s emotional core, while other power-worshiping climbers nip at their heels. (Hilary Williams is especially droll as an annoyingly efficient Brit.)
Headland has a way with barbed dialogue, and her characters speak largely in quip; it’s not for nothing her main couple’s names are Nick and Nora. This makes the play’s first scene a little tough to penetrate in Joshua Aaron Weinstein’s production, as Nick and Vince seem to be speaking a kind of alien Entourage foreign language, made up entirely of inside jokes and jargon. But then that’s the point: Headland is showing us just how completely consumed they are by their all-out service to the industry of Daniel.