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A CurtainUp Review
Hold Please

The Working Theater's Production of Hold Please
Elyse Sommer

Laura Esterman as Agatha
Laura Esterman as Agatha
About five minutes into the Working Theater's production of Annie Weisman's satiric look at the modern pink collar office ghetto it began to feel oddly familiar. I knew I hadn't seen it, and yet. . .? Then I realized that CurtainUp reviewed the play when it premiered at South Coast Rep which commissioned it. That settled, I sat back to enjoy the excellent ensemble assembled for this Off-Broadway premiere.

Though actors, director and designers are all new and the playwright may have made some alterations, the original review describes the play's content sufficiently to make further summary unnecessary. The pros and cons apply to what I saw. With those remarks posted below, I'll limit this review to some additional comments about the play, and to the specifics of this version.

There's no question that Ms. Weisman has a decided gift for dialogue, especially for motor-mouthed characters like Jessica, whose optimistic embrace of one career opportunity after another inevitably turns into so much hot air. The current Jessica, Jeanine Serralles, is so good that she comes close to stealing the show. I found her riffs with her fellow temp worker Erika (another beautiful performance by Emma Bowers) and her sign-off "office rap" to be hilarious and thought they added a great deal to what's best about the play.

Flavorful and well delivered as Annie Weisman's dialogue is her picture of a modern office has a second-hand not particularly authentic flavor. Though the internet is constantly on the two younger women's lips, this office seems less than up-to-date. The excision of Xavier from the the clerks' repetitively droned "Solomon, Xavier, Greenspan, and Sachs." is no more likely to result from something like Agatha's clerical rights committee than his female replacement is likely to change the boss-worker power structure. The differences between the younger and older office workers (Laura Esterman and Kathryn Rossetter, both seasoned and reliable actors) is well delineated but their stories veer towards trite and familiar territory.

Besides the solid ensemble to bring her clerical quartet to life, Ms. Weisman has again been fortunate to be given a stylish production. Set designer James Youman has managed things so that the Blue Heron's modestly scaled stage accommodates not only a revolving set for the various cubicles and the employee recreation room but also a second tier for smoke breaks. If that set's frequent swivels tend to be a bit busy and distracting, you hardly notice it thanks to the snappy incidental music supplied by Laura Grace Brown's sound design.

Connie Grappo of the Working Theater's big hit, Tabletop is again at the helm. While Tabletop provided her with a much fresher background and more complex characters, she nevertheless does an excellent job to keep things moving along.

There's certainly no shortage of issues, backgrounds and styles for the Working Theater to explore. One such exploration already in the works is an intriguing workshop presentation of a play of interviews with millionaires and minimum wage workers across the United States, details of which can be checked out at the company's web site,

Tabletop reviewed when it moved from Off-Off to Off-Broadway
Nickel and Dimed, an adaptation of Barbara Ehrenreich's documentary about exploited workers, which may also wend its way from Los Angeles to New York (maybe by this company?)
By Annie Weisman
Directed by Connie Grappo
Cast: Emma Bowers, Laura Esterman, Kathryn Rossetter, Jeanine Serralles
Sets: James Youmans
Costumes: Ilona Somagyi
Lighting: Jack Mehler
Running Time: 2 hours with intermission
Sound: Laura Grace Brown
Working Theater at Blue Heron Arts Center, 123 East 24th Street ( 3rd Avenue/ Lexington) 212.206.1515
2/25/03-3/30/03; opening 2/25/03
Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM, Sundays at 3 PM.
Ticket Prices: $25; groups of 20 or more, $17; student/senior or Union member,: $20; group of 50 or more, $15

---Our Original Review of the South Coast Rep premiere of Hold Please London Review- by Stanley Nemeth

Early in the first act of Hold Please, Annie Weisman's comedy in its world premiere at South Coast Repertory, the young protagonist Erica clutches a bright red, heart-shaped talisman of sorts to her breast. We're at the start of an all female employee "heart talk" and Erica speaks the words "I think."

No sooner are these out of her mouth than she's pulled up short by her older, bossy colleague Agatha and commanded to rephrase her words as "I feel".

Here we have a wonderfully telling introduction to Weisman's postmodern corporate world. Below the forced camaraderie of this imagined workplace and firmly entrenched among the generations of women employed there is the thinly veiled tyranny of old-fashioned "male"hierarchical structure still alive and well.

Weisman's is a world where feelings now reign - - rational distinctions along with due process having been discarded as incompatible with current schemes of wealth and power - - but one whose feelings are quickly exposed as not of the warm fuzzy sort. Rather, what rules in this world where all still prey on all is a desire to devour the other. A metaphorical cannibalism by the corporation of its employees - - it chews them up and then spits them out - - is matched by the eagerness of the employees to do the same thing, whether to their children (comically, as revealed in one of Weisman's most inspired and thematically relevant comic riffs) or to one another, through rabid competitiveness, vengefulness, and sexual exploitation. These are the "feelings" which largely occupy the hearts of the four central female characters, The otherwise seemingly harmless clerical types who answer phones and take messages, engage in lengthy tete-a-tetes, drink Starbucks Ventis, eat Nutter Butters, or read Oprah's Magazine at their desks or in the coffee area of the firm resoundingly named Solomon, Xavier, Greenspan, and Sachs.

Ms. Weisman is writing in Neil LaBute territory. Her play could justly be subtitled In The Company Of Women. The action of the play unfortunately rests on two excessively slender plot strands. The first features the bossy Agatha as detective. She "feels" the younger Erika is hiding something, so she uses her colleague Grace as a work tool to ferret it out. At convenient moments, Agatha repeats her hunch that Erika is hiding something. There's little else in the way of dramatic structure to lend forward momentum to the first act action. Dialogue trumps the imitation of an action.

In the second act, events are shaped by the decision of a newly hired MBA, a 24-year-old first female executive at the firm (she doesn"t appear onstage) to carry out "an efficiency estimate." Though the four main characters "feel" this will entail downsizing, most are confident they will not be the corporate "losers." I won't reveal the consequences of this plot thread except to point out that they involve inadequately motivated confessionsand final dispositions more convenient than dramatically probable.

This South Coast Repertory production is most likely all that the playwright could wish for. The acting is consistently polished. The four leads are all so good in delivering the dialogue and in conveying both the generational differences and the dispiriting samenesses among workers that it would be unfair to single out any one of them for particular praise: Tessa Auberjonois shines as the troubled Erika; Kimberly K. King the manipulative Agatha; Linda Gehringer, the relatively mild and chirpy work tool, Grace; Jillian Bach the hyperactive upwardly mobile Valley Girl ,Jessica).

The direction by Mark Rucker is by and large nicely paced given the tendency of the writing to bog down in excessively lengthy two character encounters or amusing if irrelevant riffs. The costumes by Joyce Lee Kim (ranging from the prim and proper, to the clashing, to the openly tarty) are all highly suitable to the characters. Christopher Acebo's attractive set, consisting of three workplace areas, allows for the maximum in quick and smoothly moving changes of place.

The 28-year-old author, who this season has enjoyed world premieres at both La Jolla Playhouse and South Coast Repertory, has been widely and justly praised for her fine ear for dialogue. So note perfect is she in capturing her characters' "totallys" and "whatevers" that it might appear ungracious to suggest that too much of a good thing isn't always wonderful. A case in point is Jessica's "White Out" rap song in the second act. Though undeniably amusing, it's hard to see how this interpolation adds anything to our insight into Jessica, to the play's ideas, or to an elegant resolution of the action. Moreover, it's too cartoonish. It might be more suitable were Jessica to make an appearance on South Park. but doesn't seem worth the using up of valuable stage time from Hold Please. Weisman is a writer of remarkable talent. If she comes in time to agree with W. Somerset Maugham that any stage writer "can write dialogue, but very few can craft a dramatic action", she might well turn into the dramatist of genius some quarters, too eager to devour new writers and then spit them out, are already proclaiming her.

Hold Please
Written by Annie Weisman
Directed by Mark Rucker
Cast: Tessa Auberjonois (Erika), Kimberly K. King (Agatha), Jillian Bach (Jessica), Linda Gehringer (Grace)
Costume Design : Joyce Kim Lee Scenic Design: Christopher Acebo
Sound Design: Aram Arslanian
Lighting Design: Geoff Korf
Running Time: 2 hours , including a 15-minute intermission
South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA. (714) 708-5555/
Running 9-18-01 through 10-21-01. Opening 9-21-01
Reviewed by Stanley H. Nemeth based on September 22, 2001 performance

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