A refreshing take on the boss and associate having an affair that no one approves of, with this time the boss being an older woman and the associate being a willing, but less than worldly young man.
The audience at David Harms’ Powerhouse knows it has a lesson in store for them from the get-go. Lights come up on an attractive, no-nonsense female in a “power suit” by the name of Regan Van Riper, addressing a group of female law students (us, actually) at a recruiting event about Women in Big Law. From the moment she begins to speak, we are hooked.
Her keynote address is entitled “Running the Gauntlet – Can We Really Make Partner and Get To the Top?” Well, Regan has made it to the top…well, not quite as “top” as she would like, but she made partner at a time when women didn’t get that vote of confidence. While she has been a partner for 17 years, her firm now boasts 13 women partners, an achievement until you place it against the fact the other 127 partners are men.
She lays out the choices for her young audience – “One, skip the family and just go for the brass ring. I did and, so far, I’m happy. Two, take maternity leave and come back part-time. Most firms allow that now. You’ll have a nice title, good pay and a support practice where you won’t have to step up very often – not bad, but you’ll probably have to give up your dream of reaching the pinnacle. And oh yeah, you’ll have that second job. Choice three: have your family, but outsource the child-rearing to someone else.” This comes from a woman, who now in her late 40’s, still feels that wanting it all, and getting it, is very much in reach.
At the risk of a cliché, Laura Shoop is a powerhouse in the lead role. She is in superb form as a woman who takes even a situation where she has violated the cardinal rule of not “fraternizing” with the associates and manages to parlay it into forcing the chairman to nominate her for the board. In every scene, Shoop comes at the role from a secure position of strength…in a post-coital moment of relaxation with Guy, her young paramour, she does not miss a beat when she hears a Bloomberg item on television hinting at a leak of sensitive information regarding the high profile merger she is working on. She goes into battle mode texting and phoning her team members with damage control orders. In an explosive rooftop scene with a Human Resource minion determined to destroy her, Shoop turns into a she-wolf…”Game on!”
The other cast members rise to the occasion too. Dominick LaRuffa Jr. is charming throughout as the young Guy Stone. In the scene where he is being interrogated by the two Human Resource women, he gets every laugh in his faux-innocence parroting the response over and over again that Regan has rehearsed with him – “We have a professional relationship. She’s my mentor and we do deals together.” We see how conflicted he is when the chairman coerces him into secretly recording his next tryst with Regan and how utterly destroyed he is when the betrayed Regan throws him out of her apartment. His is a very touching performance, a character genuinely devoid of any ulterior motives.
Jeorge Bennett Watson gives a beautifully layered performance as chairman Norris Peebles, dutiful company man trying to do “everything by the book” in service to the demanding board, but wearily at the twilight of his long career seeing fit to provide a happy ending for his star partner. As Janet Shaney, the head of Human Resources, Kate Levy has many spot-on comedic moments as a career Yes-woman tripping over herself in kowtowing to the orders set out by the demanding chairman.
Jennifer Pierro, the deceitful and power-hungry Human Resources psychologist Meena Cizinski, is a delight. Her character is transparent to everyone but herself. As to be expected, the two Human Resource women have attached a bullseye to Van Riper out of sheer professional jealousy, not to mention their obvious envy of her romantic involvement.
Harms’ play never lets up in its homage to corporate intrigue laced with humor. The audience’s caring for how Regan and Guy end up is a given, so that we can forgive his “poetic license” in that all legal personnel involved would be fully aware that the illegal recording of someone without their knowledge is a Class E felony in the state of New York, but nevermind. Director Ken Wolf keeps the story moving at a great clip and gently supports all five of the thoroughly believable characterizations, to the point we hope even Meena will be okay after her hysterical breakdown akin to professional suicide.
The company is supported by a fine design team. Jack C. Golden’s bifurcated set is split between Regan’s apartment and the various office settings and rooftop at Breeden Law, backed by a beautiful Manhattan cityscape. Yang Yu’s lighting design is sensitive to the variations in office fluorescent lighting and subdued tones for the apartment. Sabrinna Fabi’s costumes are on-target for corporate wear, with Regan’s outfits jumping off Vogue pages and even Peebles’ suits committing to detail of pocket fabrics to match his ties.
Powerhouse succeeds on so many levels. Just as you might think this won’t end up well for two people whose love for each other is being tested so vehemently, the tables are turned on the cold bureaucracy that would dare to tear them apart leaving them without careers and, most importantly, without each other. The solid writing, direction and performances make for a very satisfying night out at the theater.
Powerhouse (through October 30, 2022)
Manhattan Repertory Theatre
Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres, 502 West 53rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.powerhouseplay.com
Running time: 85 minutes without an intermission
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