Self-preservation is fundamental in Erika Sheffer’s workplace dramedy about getting ahead no matter what, or who, the cost.
“This place runs on trust,” says the manager of an upscale Manhattan boutique hotel in Erika Sheffer’s new play. The moment comes late enough in the action that we recognize it as a laugh line: No one on this hotel’s staff should trust any of their coworkers, not even their own spouse. Millie (Alana Arenas) is a longtime member of the housekeeping staff, recently passed over for a promotion to the front desk and given a bullshit new job title as consolation prize. Her husband, Lorenzo (Armando Riesco), works on the engineering staff and resents every minute of it. When Millie sees an opportunity to move up in the ranks by ingratiating herself with the hotel’s tense, frosty manager (Audrey Francis), she finds herself willing to throw others under the bus for her family’s gain.
Sheffer (Russian Transport) titles her play after the guiding principles of service laid out by corporate in a pair of faux training videos that begin each act (on-the-nose execution by projection designer Stephan Mazurek and sound designer Rick Sims), but her characters rather predictably prove “resourceful” and “graceful” aren’t as important as “self-preserving.” Each of these staffers (including Caroline Neff as a new hire at the front desk and Alan Wilder as a kindly-seeming old hand) will make an “unexpected” turn before the play’s end, but it’s never truly a surprise. Still, director Yasen Peyankov and the impeccable cast imbue the production with added nuance.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company. By Erika Sheffer. Directed by Yasen Peyankov. With Alana Arenas, Caroline Neff, Alan Wilder, Armando Riesco, Audrey Francis. Running time: 2hrs 10mins; one intermission.