If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
A World Premiere at Long Wharf
New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre kicks-off the new year with the world premiere of playwright Heidi Schreck’s “The Consultant”, a contemporary dramedy about downsizing and relationships in the workplace. This up-to-the-minute chronicle, which features some snappy one-liners and noteworthy performances, is nonetheless still pretty much stuck in first gear in its current rendering at the New Haven theatre.
Lesbian grad student Amelia (an appealing Clare Barron) arrives at a faceless pharmaceutical marketing company to assist their genius designer, Jun Suk (Nelson Lee,) with his social skills. A big client is trying to be wooed and the agency -- which includes receptionist Tania (Cassie Beck, hilarious) and salesman Mark (Darren Goldstein) -- needs the new client badly if they are going to resist laying off any more staff members.
From there it’s never really clear what Schreck’s point is since the play loses focus over several scenes played out in 90 minutes without intermission. Is she deriding the corporate mentality? Mourning the plight of those affected by the recession? Warning us about the dangers of alcohol poisoning (I’m not kidding)? We never really know and it all leads to an ending that seriously fizzles causing you to question, “Wait...what?”
That final scene, by the way, involves a rather elaborate set change to a private hospital room that looks as wide as a football field. During this brief coda an eternity seems to be spent watching two actors silently wrap a bouquet of flowers. Sometimes silence can be extremely powerful on stage. Here it only results in confusion and impatience. The play also introduces a former employee (Lynne McCullough) whose actions seem to seriously affect the outcome, but her appearance is brief and she’s never mentioned again leading one to wonder about her actual purpose.
Under Kip Fagan’s lively direction the cast is eager even with underwritten roles. Beck has the most fun as the acerbic, lovelorn Tania whose monitoring of incoming phone calls alone is a master class in comic timing. Barron is adorably dorky as the title character but the play has left her adrift as to motivation and purpose. Why Schreck chose to identify her as gay, for instance, is only one of many head-scratchers here. Lee’s depressed designer gets to show more colors in the second half of the play when he goes on a serious bender and his character’s sad personal life does seem real and heartfelt.
Andrew Boyce’s steel and glass office setting gets the details right but an enclosed conference room situated upstage proves problematic for the actors blocking faces at crucial moments and making them sound muffled as their voices are piped through a speaker system. I also question the necessity of including an LED screen that announces dates between scenes. Jessica Pabst’s contemporary costuming and Matt Frey’s corporate lighting are fine with Daniel Kluger’s sound design even better than that. All said, however, “The Consultant” is still very much a workshop production in need of several more rewrites before meeting its public.
“The Consultant” continues at Long Wharf’s Stage II Theatre through February 9, 2014. For further information call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.