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Are World Premieres For New Plays Pandemic Stopgaps Or a New Normal— If Primary Stages weren't still closed, BadAss GalBoss Power Hour (Mandatory Meeting) might have premiered as a live production. . . but for the New Normal Rep the virtual world premiere of F.I. R.E. confirms their commitment to using the pandemic as an opportunity to make plays staged especially for the screen provide satisfying theatrical experiences and reach larger audiences.
By Elyse Sommer
New Normal Rep is a new kid on the block. Per the company's name, Artistic Director Jack Canfora and Executive Producer Sally Klingenstein-Martell . don't expect to go back to the old normal of in-person theater. While the pandemic did cause this streaming theater company to be born, Canfora and Klingenstein-Martell saw it not as a stopgap but as an opportunity for a permanent pandemic-inspired alternative. That alternative would make a production designed to be viewed on screen theatrically satisfying.
As indicated by the fledgling company's inaugural season, their screened productions will include plays that have already had more traditionally staged runs elsewhere as well as new work like F.I.R.E. by Julia Blauvelt.
While the two plays filmed for home screen viewing are produced by two different companies they have a lot in common. Both are available for very short runs and written by women — Julia Blauvelt and Kate Hammill — both of whom are also actors, with Hammill performing in the debuting play. Both the concisely titled F.I.R.E. and the much longer BadAss GalBoss Power Hour are set in workplaces not usually fodder for dramas. Yet, Blauvelt and Hammill have most effectively sent up the hypocrisies and delusions of their respective characters.
I found F.I.R.E. more consistently engaging and dynamically filmed than Hammill's parody of women who have made that bad-ass adjective part of our cultural lexicon. That said, Hammil packs a lot into just sixty minutes and her multi-level marketing meeting background does lend itself to her thematic intentions.
Below my further takes on each play.
Unlike most of the plays being offered to audiences coming back to Broadway these days F.I.R.E. isn't a solo or two-actor proposition but features seven actors, each of whom portrays a character vital to the narrative. The ensemble members appear on the screen in what initially feels like another Zoom set-up. However, thanks to multi-media designer Edward T. Morris and director Heather Arnson, those Zoom-like rectangles morph into cubbyholes in what looks and feels like a clever stage set for a typical office occupied by multiple worker bees.
The characters moving in and out of these cubbyholes are accountants at a Manhattan hedge fund. They're not high-profile company employees at this firm where only the C.E.O. is really secure and well paid. These accountants, as well as their department manager and that manager's superior, represent a parallel universe of greed-empowered one-percenters and those on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder.
The play's timeline is unspecified but evidently some time after the 2007 financial meltdown when once secure and always available white collar jobs were no longer secure or plentiful. Whatever the date, it's pre-pandemic though viewers will see that the financial and ethical issues the storyline brings to light haven't gone away.
The scenario is structured around numerous short scenes, with quick blackouts to indicate shifts from the interactions in the shared office and more intimate duets. The event that drives the plot is the annual Summer Drinks Night, the one social event this back office department gets to be part of this corporate family. It's what the various staffers feel about this event that individualizes and defines each character. The most outspoken in their enthusiasm or lack of it about this perk are Aaron Matteson's Hatch and Jeff Bean's Chris. Hatch is gung-ho for it. Chris, the oldest staffer, just wants to be home with his family. For him the title adds up to Financial/Independence/Retire/Early.
Penny (Ella Dershowitz), the office temp, represents the creative community that has always done non-artistic jobs to pay the bills. A flashback scene that recreates her audition for an acting job shows that frustration, and the need for compromise, is not limited to one field.
The arrival of Dannica (Carol Todd), a harried mid-level executivem, demanding an emergemcy audit from department manager Shauna(Kierra Bunch), turns a night of fun and free snacks into a tense late work night with a mystery twist. The resolution of the crisis doesn't make for uplifting escape entertainment, but it's exactly the reflective experience that's New Normal Rep's mission.
Tickets are $25, $10 for students
Streaming September 30th - October 20th, 2021
BadAss GalBoss Power Hour (Mandatory Meeting)
Like F.I.R.E. this is a multiple view point play, with the playwright playing one of its six characters. Her Lily is ably supported by other badassers— Kimberly Chatterjee as Sherry, Krystel Lucas as Mona, Maria-Christina Oliveras as Marianne, Miriam Silverman as Carla, and the only male character, Jason O'Connell as Jonathan.
Like F.I.R.E.'s hedge fund setting, the multi-level marketing company, whose pyramid scheme tactics these smart women have not so smartly bought into, connects the dots between comedy and thoughts of serious issues.
The way Hamill uses this type of dishonest enterprise to poke a finger at these big-on-female-empowerment women who outsmart themselves by hitching their their dreams of riches and power to such a company. What's more, the most fanatical top girls refuse to acknowledge that they're using their badass sisterhood to feather her own nest by pep-talking her sisters into spending rather than making money selling products that don't work.
Even with an outstanding director like Moritz von Stuelpnagel at the helm, there are slow moments in this theatrical Zoom meeting. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating, honest look at another aspect of female empowerment. Ticket are free for On Demand streaming, so why not give it a go.
Plays produced to be viewed on home screens aren't going to replace the pleasures of seeing plays in person. But when given high quality virtual productions, they are indeed a worthy alternative for regular theatergoers and also expand the theater experience to include those who can't afford the high cost of tickets.
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F.I.R.E.by Julia Blauvelt
directed by Heather Arnson
starring Jeffrey Bean, Kierra Bunch, Nathaniel P. Claridad, Ella Dershowitz, Aaron Matteson, Nygel D. Robinson, & Carol Todd
costume design by David C. Woolard,
Muti-media design by Edward T Morris
sound design by Lindsay Jones.
Streaming September 30th - October 20th, 2021\
BADASS GALBOSS POWER HOUR (MANDATORY MEETING - 11/18/2020)
Written by and starring Kate Hamill
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Cast: Kate Hamill, Kimberly Chatterjee, Krystel Lucas, Jason O'Connell as Jonathan, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Miriam Silverman.
Produced by Primary Stages In association with Jamie deRoy
Running Time 60 minutes
Ticket on line https://primarystages.org/shows/current-season
September 22 - October 13, 2021