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THEATER REVIEW What We're Up Against
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-01-22

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Playwright: Theresa Rebeck

At: Compass Theatre at the Raven Arts Complex, 6157 N. Clark St. Tickets: CompassTheatre.org; $35. Runs through: Feb. 9

It doesn't take us long to separate the bad 'uns from the good 'uns at this generically stark corporate office: Stu is a swaggering foul-mouthed testosterone-spewing windbag who spends his time swilling expensive hooch and reviling his co-workers. Weber is his air-headed lackey, dispensing supportive flattery ensuring favor. Ben's support is less enthusiastic, employed as an apology for his sincere work ethic.

It's not just a Boys' Club, however. This is 1992, after all, and the fraternity—oops, "team"—includes Janice, the quintessential female colleague: tactful, deferential and state, moviemaking or biochemistry, but the game is still that of taking credit over responsibility, fighting fire with fire and winning at all costs. Why shouldn't we cheer on warring champions who uphold our values as they triumph over villains who don't?

Why, indeed—because Theresa Rebeck is writing in 2017, making this a PERIOD play. Rather than sending us home secure in our righteousness, she adds codas reminding us of the collateral damage entailed by petty squabbles ( and even in 1992, can you get more petty than a strip mall with HVAC problems? ) when compromise and co-operation give way to egotistical obsession rendering heroes indifferent to the fates of innocent bystanders.

Until our consciences re-awaken, though, Compass Theatre delivers a thrilling gladiatorial match, replete with intrigue, betrayals and double-crosses. Director Lauren Shouse has assembled a nimble cast featuring the formidable Echacka Agba, who delves Rebeck's occasional overly-broad characterizations for subtextual nuance ( watch her in a wordless moment by the water cooler ). Ted James, Denise Hoeflich and Jeff Kurysz likewise portray Rebeck's casualties-of-war with a light touch ultimately engaging our empathy, in sharp contrast with Charlie Strater's loathsomely solipsistic Stu.

"Why do we still have to do it this way?" sighs Janice, as the women survey the carnage necessary to gain a seat at the table. Audiences in 2019 might want to ask, too.


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