A decade has passed since the much-criticized AT&T vs. Verizon commercials starring Luke Wilson took to the airwaves, but playwright Rob Ackerman has chosen to bubble up their essence into his whimsical, off-the-wall new play, Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson, helmed by Theresa Rebeck in her New York directorial debut.
As the lights and music come up on the scene of a Brooklyn soundstage, gruff and sardonic veteran special effects guy Ken (Dean Nolen) and his idiosyncratic, fiercely moral protegé props best boy Rob (George Hampe) are found constructing the delivery device which will eventually drop the hundreds of gumballs onto self-important spokesperson Luke Wilson (Jonathan Sale). Additionally, ditzy, newbie props person Jenny (Reyna De Courcy) and harried assistant director/single mother Alice (Ann Harada) scramble about the stage preparing to put the commercial on its feet, a television advertisement directed by the arrogant, imperious, legendary documentary director Errol Morris (David Wohl).
Although the audience is treated to the gumball gimmick early on, the play’s wad is hardly blown–Ackerman’s extremely clever and funny script quickly picks up the pieces and introduces the basic conflict of the story, which has Rob, Alice and Jenny objecting to Morris putting Wilson’s safety on the line in exchange for the entertainment value of his head being pelted by gumballs. As each take of the commercial is staged and executed, the stakes are raised, and the humorous moments are darkened by themes of workplace bullying, the nature of entertainment, and selective truth-telling.
This actor shows up, fat and outta shape and half-asleep, and he’s putting me to sleep. Then all-of-a-sudden something smacks him in the skull and wakes him up. Sweet Jesus, that was fun. I was bored, and now I’m not so bored. Why am I not so bored?
Art is not safe.
In its lighter moments, Ackerman’s dialogue is given even more levity by the uniquely brilliant comic talents of each of the actors; their performances alone are worth the price of admission.
Rebeck’s direction is spot-on, shaping this zany piece to its maximum effectiveness. Scenic designers Christopher & Justin Swader effectively provide multilevel performance spaces in an otherwise typical soundstage environment; their set is enhanced by Mary Ellen Stebbins’ creative lighting design and Bart Fassbender’s well-placed sound and music.
Do not hesitate to drop in on Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson.
Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson (through July 6, 2019)
A.R.T./ New York Theatre’s Mezzanine Theater, second Floor, 502 W. 53rd Street (west of 10th Avenue), in Manhattan
For tickets call the Box Office (Ovationtix) at 866.811.4111 or visit http://www.theworkingtheater.org/tix
Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission