Office Politics written by Marcy Lovitch is not only an insightful production, but one that is timely and hits home for today’s society. Under Aimee Todoroff’s direction, Office Politics examines the impact of a racist comment in an office setting and the fight for justice to be served. The storyline and overall message extends beyond the hierarchy of a typical corporate setting – where most times, major issues are swept under the rug to avoid excess attention – and shines the spotlight on the effects that ignorance and stereotypes have on an individual and the life she is fighting for every day.
Tonya (Patrice Bell) begins a new position as an assistant in the ad sales office of Healthy Woman magazine – and is the only African-American on staff. She is a single mother working to make ends meet, while ensuring that her son remains taken care of in the midst of her divorce and is also putting herself through school. With a lot on her plate, she tries to navigate the office structure – managing the schedule and planning for her boss Karen (Maria Wolf) and finding her place among the other employees including Greg (Philip Guerette) and Ingrid (Molly Lovell) who are tangled in their own messy divorce drama. An insensitive and racist comment by one of the higher-ups, the cocky and set-in-his-ways, Bruce (Carson Lee), forces Tonya to stand up for herself and demand action, even after her boss requests she keep it quiet and avoid any communication with human resources.
The acting in this production is very brave and pulls back the layers of each of the characters in order to get to the heart of the matter. The struggle of standing by what is right or going against your boss is especially trying for Len (Josh Doucette) as he develops romantic feelings for Tonya but doesn’t want to cut ties with his boss Bruce who made the hurtful comment in the first place. Len’s emotional state is well-played and, no doubt, makes audiences wonder what they would do if in his shoes.
The set design by Sandy Yalkin takes the “office setting” to another level by adding in elements that illustrate working for a health magazine, with contributions from props master Kate Mulhauser such as large exercise balls instead of chairs and a treadmill in the back corner. Eye-catching and fun, the set neatly represents a NYC office magazine atmosphere with frames of glossy covers plastered on the wall for the first act and a tranquil spa for the second act where the employees travel for a bonding and trust session to further work out their differences, under the watch of positive counselor Marcus (Nicholas De Sibio).
This production also brings to the surface an issue most workplaces try to handle quietly. It is so important to see how damaging a racist comment can be, and that “joking” about certain matters is not acceptable. Bell does a wonderful job of articulating the fear and trauma a woman of color experiences daily – worrying about her son being targeted by police or having a woman next to her on the subway clutch her purse – and hopefully audiences will open their eyes and come out a little more compassionate and understanding.
Office Politics (through June 20, 2015)
Long View Theater Company
June Havoc Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, first floor, west of Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.officepoliticstheplay.com/
Running time: two hours including one intermission