SALT LAKE CITY 𑁋 What We’re Up Against is an intriguing piece that takes place inside an architecture firm and follows some female employees as they deal with work equality, gossip, betrayal, and friendship. This play in reminded me of the musical 9 to 5 in many ways, yet it is still an original and fresh story. Written by Theresa Rebeck and directed by Natalia Noble, this story is fundamentally a battle of the sexes.
The scene is set in the year 1992, where there is a familiar jerk of a boss, Stu. Eliza, a new female employee challenges Stu, and rumors abound that suggest Eliza was hired only for her questionable relations with the head of the company. Eliza is very driven and expresses her desire and frustration to do actual work. After an act of rebellion causes uproar, Stu retaliates by putting a different female employee , Janice, on a large project (and to cover up his blatant sexism). Janice tries to be a mentor for Eliza because Janice is familiar with the men teaming up to advance their careers. Yet, conflict continues as the company must solve an architectural problem. Janice tries all she can do to make everyone happy, only to find Eliza stabbing her in the back in a few ways. Thus, Janice and Eliza realize that just because they are the same sex doesn’t mean they are on the same team. The interactions between those two were very important for the progression of emotion. Before the betrayal and the confrontation, it all appeared normal to have women throwing other women under the bus.
Mike Brown played Stu very naturally on stage, and I felt as though I could walk into an office and meet someone just like him. Stacey Jenson played Janice in a completely endearing way, showing an arc of emotion that extended throughout the play. Daniel Mcleod played Ben with a wonderful accent and had a consistent performance. Mary Neville played Eliza; Neville at times she had a lot to say and said it very quickly, but not one word was lost. She was always confident, and there was never a dull moment with her on stage. Leviticus Brown played Weber as the bully of the office in a way that he was still loveable. In all, there was a lot of honesty and believability in the cast’s performances. As a result, I felt as though I was in a time machine and viewing an office in 1992. It was refreshing to have such a delightful and talented cast.
The costumes were simple for an business office, but I saw more personality in Eliza’s costume because her clothes were a little more flamboyant than the rest of the cast. Neville capitalized on this in her acting and made her character’s persona stand out and distinguish her from the other characters. For example, in the beginning Eliza was the only woman wearing pants. (Also, what an amazing 70’s jumpsuit!) Costume designer Nyssa Sara Lee seemed to understand the time period well, and did a good job bringing focus to the characters she wanted to showcase.
The lighting design by Aaron Gubler for the play was simple and understated; it didn’t draw attention to itself but stil supported the story well. While intricate lighting was not necessary for What We’re Up Against, I liked Gubler’s efforts to use the lighting to isolate scenes, in place of constant set changes. That set design (by Kit Anderton) had nice levels and details. There were decorate with office art to support the time period, and there were pieces that easily transformed the space to a new location within the world of the play. The stage itself was a very small space, so Anderton was forced to be imaginative in order to generate multiple locations and moods. Set changes (performed by the actors, a nice touch to help the audience suspend their disbelief) were lit in blue writing with lovely music from the time period, which kept the plot moving seamlessly through those set changes.
Although the set, cast, and costumes were impeccable, this writer did feel that the script itself was a little lacking. The writing was good, but the story was on the slow side, and not a lot was actually happening. The storyline was a little vague and contrived, so there were times I had lost interest. I would recommend this play however, to any avid theater goer in search of new plays to enjoy. Still, What We’re Up Against was, overall, a lovely way to spend an evening at the theaetre. Audiences should be aware that this play has a warning of “very strong language.” A majority of the script was, indeed, very strong language,and I would not recommend the play to anyone under 18.
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