Long Wharf's “The Consultant” Needs Work

By Karen Isaacs

The Consultant, now at Long Wharf's Stage II through February 9, is a world premier and as such exhibits some of the problems that can affect a play in its initial production. It certainly demonstrates a lack of focus.

Playwright Heidi Schreck is both an actress and a writer whose writing credits include the Nurse Jackie TV series. The play includes a fine role for a female actress, but it does seem more suited for a TV show or series even, rather than an evening in the theater. We can hope that seeing the work in front of an audience will encourage to Schreck to rethink and improve it.

The Consultant focuses on the recent economic meltdown and the younger employees affected by it. While the program talks a lot about "millennials" -- those in their 20s and early 30s, the two male characters are really not part of that group.

The setting is a small advertising agency specializing in pharmaceutical advertising which has recently experienced a downturn in business and subsequently massive layoffs. In fact, it seems as though only four people still work there. And it doesn't seem like anyone does much work.

Tania, played brilliantly by Cassie Beck, is a college grad employed as the receptionist. She's disillusioned by her dead end, low paying job. Mark is an account executive who acts likes he's a frat boy though he is older. He and Tania have a "thing" going or is it just a one-night fling? Then there is Jun Suk; he's almost 40, a graphic designer and soon to be divorced after cheating on his wife.

Amelia is both the title character and the most problematic. She is just 22 and starting graduate school at NYU, which has placed her with the agency to provide some training services. The problem is she thinks she is teaching English Second Language to a foreign employee. Yet Jun Suk was born in the US. His problem is giving client presentations; he had a total collapse at the last one and a very important one is coming up.

Unfortunately, Amelia is not really qualified to coach him on presentations. In one of the more unbelievable moments she instructs Jun Suk by reading from a book.

Director Kip Fagan and the cast work hard to make it all seem plausible. Darrien Goldstein as Mark is believable as the account executive and Nelson Lee is tightly wound as Jun Suk. Clare Barron has the unenviable position of trying to make sense of Amelia. The introduction of an older, recently laid off employee (Barbara) seems only justified by the need to bring the play to a climax. In addition, the set is distracting and at times makes it difficult to see the characters.

The subject -- the unenviable position of recent college grads in this last economic crisis -- is a good one. Many are struggling and feel both trapped and disillusioned. Their dreams have been shattered.

Unfortunately The Consultant misses the mark. It could be a hard-hitting bitter comedy but it settles for scattered approaches and limited vision.

It suffers in comparison to the cynical drama David Mamet showed us in Glengarry Glen Ross and Hurly Burly.

The Consultant is at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater through Feb. 9. For tickets and information call the box office at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org.

This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers January 29, 2014 and online at Zip06.com.

Posted 2.3.2014

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