Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven
On viewing “The Consultant,” now enjoying its “world premiere” at Long Wharf ‘s Stage II, one sees it, not as a full-fledged piece, but as a work-in-progress.
There are possibilities here, and playwright Heidi Shreck does make a stab at creating a specific, contemporary milieu. It is a high tech workplace in which apps abound, thus providing both convenience for, and control of, its human occupants. Sutton, Feingold and McGrath is a pharmaceutical advertising agency currently in the throes of an economic recession, and its workers reflect the uncertain times. In a rat-a-tat style, Shreck offers a series of mini-scenes, in which the firm’s staff members display their uncertainties, inadequacies and attempts to bond with each other.
It takes some time for the audience to absorb what’s going on. For starters, we do not even realize that the characters are speaking on the phone, but appear to be talking to themselves. Secondly, the play’s dialogue is so rapid-fire that many critical lines are lost.
But as time moves on in this 90-minute one-act piece, we begin to figure it out. And moments here and there can be both amusing and revealing. Any one familiar with this type of modern-day office will experience aha! moments as they watch the actors move about the stage.
But where is it all heading? Characters, for starters, are so brittle, so shallow, that we cannot relate to them or be concerned with their ultimate fate. In point of fact, nothing happens—beyond the firings which occur as the play closes. At best, Shreck has provided a milieu and a group of stick figures. We have seen puppet shows whose puppets have offered more humanity than these characters in human form.
But director Kip Fagan keeps the production moving at a lively clip, and performers Clare Barrow, Cassie Beck, Darren Goldstein, Nelson Lee, and Lynne McCoullough are all highly capable. Most importantly, designer Andrew Boyce has created a clever, intriguing set design, well worth remembering long after “The Consultant” itself has left our consciousness.
Yet, this comedy/drama (or whatever it is) is indeed a work-in-progress, which may yet turn into a play..
-- Irene Backalenick
January 18, 2014