Reviewed by Judy Richter
Backbiting and sabotaging plus incompetence, stupidity and arrogance. Add misogyny to the mix, and you have "What We're Up Against" by Theresa Rebeck, enjoying its world premiere at Magic Theatre under the direction of artistic director Loretta Greco.
The setting is an architectural firm where Eliza (Sarah Nealis), complains to her supervisor, Stu (Warren David Keith), that she's been shunted aside into a tiny office with no work to do in the six months that she's been with the firm. In the meantime, Ben (Rod Gnapp), who has been there for several years, is working on a shopping center renovation that has stumped him because he can't figure out how to deal with its ducts. He seems to be the only member of the firm, besides Eliza, who's trying to do a good job. Working with him on the project is the pretentious Weber (James Wagner), who has been with the firm for a shorter time than Eliza, much to her resentment. Janice (Pamela Gaye Walker), the only other woman with the firm, proves to be no ally. She's too busy trying to protect herself even though she's been there nine years. She's also not very bright. Eliza herself doesn't always behave admirably..
Evidence of what Eliza is up against comes when she's finally assigned to the renovation of a courthouse. When she presents her ideas to her colleagues, Stu belittles her ideas while Weber is downright rude. It's hard to believe that Stu, as supervisor, would tolerate such juvenile behavior.
The real intrigue and fireworks, though, revolve around those pesky shopping center ducts. Because of them, Ben, who comes off as just as misogynistic as Stu in the first scene, finally begins to respect Eliza for what she can do.
All five actors are terrific, thanks to their own talents as well as Greco's direction and Rebeck's script. Rebeck also wrote "Mauritius," which was a big hit in a recent Magic season. The current production is enhanced by Skip Mercier's spare set, Sarah Sidman's lighting, Alex Jaeger's costumes and Sara Huddleston's sound.
The play has an intriguing premise and interesting characters and situations. My only misgiving is that the script is too liberally laced with obscenities used by all of the characters, a la David Mamet. But maybe they aren't articulate enough to express themselves any other way.