By Rob Ackerman
Directed by Connie Grappo
The American Place Theatre
111 West 46th Street / (212) 840-3074

Reviewed by David Spencer

The following is the text of my original off-off Broadway review of Tabletop, which has since, happily, moved to the American Place Theatre, where the ambience is a little less environmental and the set, owing to the playing space, somewhat more shallow of depth. Otherwise, it hasn't been damaged at all…

It’s any neutral observer’s guess why the director "formerly known as" Contance Grappo has changed her professional moniker to Connie, but it’s good to note that what hasn’t changed is her good taste and her flair for ensemble comedy. To wit, Rob Ackerman’s workplace comedy "Tabletop" which is the surprise sleeper of the summer.

The title refers to a genre of television advertising that focuses on food and food products, filmed primarily on mini-sets that are, you guessed it, table tops. Ackerman’s play–with the verbal wit and assurance of diverse character types you’d find in the best teevee workplace comedies, like "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Taxi" among others–examines the idiosyncrasies of the biz and the very particular sensibilities immersed in, and obsessed with it. At the top of the ladder is the heavyset, tyrannical director and studio-owner Marcus Gordon (Rob Bartlett), whose reputation is slipping; on the bottom is studio manager Ron (Jeremy Webb) who is often the abuse-taking, problem-solving genius behind everyone else’s success. In between are the assistant cameraman Oscar (Harvy Blanks), prop-guy Jeffrey (Dean Nolen), gaffer Dave (Jack Koenig) and Marcus’s producer/assistant director and political intermediary, Andrea (Elizabeth Hanly Rice). And, typical of any workplace, it has are several dramas going on at once. The one that predominates, and that one way or another impacts upon the others, is Ron’s struggle for acknowledgement and respect.

As with the best ensemble casts (e.g. the original and legendary "That Championship Season") you feel, with the above-named players, a sense of genuine discovery, that most of these folks could be, if the breaks are with them, on the cusp of bigger things individually, and that, collectively, they have formulated a unique gestalt. As I say, Ms. Grappo’s assured hand at this kind of thing–she did an equally winning job with Bruce Graham’s "The Belmont Avenue Social Club" two seasons ago–does no harm, nor her knack for creating–or at least encouraging–the perfect physical atmosphere. Designer Dean Taucher’s tabletop studio goes unusually deep, is meticulously researched and perfectly propped. Were it not that the playing area is so craftily planned, it would barely seem a stage set at all, but rather a fully functional studio.

"Tabletop" is by no means a great play (though it is certainly a very good one)…but it provides the basis for a greatly enjoyable evening; and at that, one that deserves to move from its off-off Broadway venue to an open-ended off-Broadway run; it may well survive in a small Broadway house. It has that kind of mainstream professionalism and octane on all levels.

The vicissitudes of the business, though, and the vagaries of getting on in summer being what they are, though, "Tabletop" can as well be overlooked…so do yourself a favor–a big one–and hie to the Working Theatre. Where the phrase "commercial fare" is given an unexpected new spin…

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