No, having two CEOs would be like having two suns in the same sky. Because the sun is the center of the universe, right? Whereas two Oracles is more like…having two hands. I think Aisling will be very handy.
So declares the zany best-selling author, celebrated motivational speaker and CEO of a cryptic 21st century corporation whose motto is, “Do it yesterday!” in co-authors T.J. Elliott and Joe Queenan’s amusing business world satire, The Oracle. The familiar cutthroat terrain of Executive Suite, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Network and 30 Rock is enjoyably trod here again, with a dartboard cleverly proving to be instrumental.
The company’s white male Chief Knowledge Officer also known as the Oracle (Patrick Smith), gives a morning presentation where he proclaims three “daily divinations” or “reveals” that the staff then tackle. When the CEO brings in a hotshot Harvard graduate Asian American woman (Alyssa Poon) to be a second Oracle, corporate intrigue ensues.
Mr. Elliott and Mr. Queenan’s racially diverse, straight and gay five characters are well-delineated; their breezy often pop culture-referenced dialogue is loaded with one-liners that land and they’ve crafted a compelling plot. Their adept writing marks The Oracle as a sound comedy.
The gray-haired, suited up, animated Ed Altman energizes the show with his winning wacky portrayal of the CEO, channeling J.B. Biggley, Ted Baxter and Howard Beale. Jasmine Dorothy Haefner and Hassan Hope as well as the aforementioned Alyssa Poon and Patrick Smith all offer vivid characterizations as the other archetypical office figures.
This premiere five-performance Off-Off-Broadway showcase run of The Oracle is best viewed as a tryout, and the production’s presentational flaws are cited with that belief. Co-author Elliott also directed; while he’s assembled, well-positioned and guided the industrious cast to lively performances, his physical staging is variable. The play is structured as 34 brief scenes over two acts. Instead of rapid transitions, there’s a pause between each scene while recorded music plays as the actors get in place. This intrusive strategy slackens the pacing and adds to the running time.
Working from Theater for the New City’s props department, scenic designer Kathleen Ritter has configured appropriate furnishings to resemble a break room and the Oracle’s office at opposite sides of the stage. In the center is a platform accessible on either side by an attached two steps. This is where presentations are made, and several scenes are set. These weathered wooden components continually creak as the actors walk around, distracting from the mirth. Perhaps carpeting would remedy this.
Mikelle Kelly’s lighting design prodigiously contends with switching to the numerous scenes and artfully illuminating each one. Luke Lutz’s cool projection design wittily displays PowerPoint demonstrations and various building locations, and his crisp sound design represents music and effects.
This credible incarnation of The Oracle proves it to be smart comic entertainment.
The Oracle (May 18-22, 2022)
Knowledge Workings Theater
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave, in Manhattan
Running time: two hours including one intermission