Thursday, February 10, 2011

"What We're Up Against": ☼ ☼ BANG

In her third Bay production in four years, Theresa Rebeck appears to be on a roll, Her basic theme is unchanged: power and politics in interpersonal relationships. Whereas 2008's "The Scene" was about the entertainment biz and 2009's "Mauritius" about a struggle between sisters over an estate, "What We're Up Against" deals with sexism in the workplace.

There are many interesting sidelines to the story of the new female hire in the architecture firm, Eliza (played by Sarah Nealls). She has been shunted to a rear office and given no assignments while the young pretty boy Weber (James Wagner) receives every opportunity to excel. Eliza's boss Stu (Warren David Keith) and her co-workers Ben (Rod Gnapp) and Janice (Pamela Gaye Walker) are not sympathetic to her plight, as they are caught up in insecurities about their own jobs.

Stu is a drunk. Janice is the good little girl. Eliza is a bitch. Weber is an idiot. Ben is --- well, Ben is Rod Gnapp, slightly dyspeptic, world-weary and in the end always the diamond in the rough. We like Ben. We don't much care for any of the others.

As with "Mauritius," it is hard to call "What We're Up Against" a comedy but harder still to name it a drama. It is too entertaining to be called a polemic but there is too little motion to call it great theater. The characters remain unchanged by the final curtain and their problems have not been dealt with. The best we can hope for is that Ben and Eliza go out for dinner and don't strangle each other.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "What We're Up Against" Two Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. Though this rating falls slightly below the Julie Andrews Line (see sidebar on right for explanation of ratings), you will enjoy Warren David Keith (brilliantly seamy). Sarah Nealls is good as the pretty girl everyone figures is sleeping with the big boss David (never seen). And you'll root for Rod Gnapp to figure it all out.

The BANGLE is for Stu, who is just plain bewildered by women. He makes us think he means it when he says "She tricked me. But I wasn't fooled."

Could James Wagner's Weber REALLY describe a shopping mall as "...the human heart meets the void in those places and shops anyway." Could Pamela Gaye Walker's Janice actually fawn THAT fatuously, and either of them still be employed the next day?

Apparently. The critic's wife, who worked for many years in an environment like Rebeck's architecture firm, assures him that not only is every word in this show true but in real life it's even worse. Way worse. There's your tragedy.

"What We're Up Against"
Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
Through March 6

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