By Theresa Rebeck; Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt
Produced by Women's Project Theater and Segal NYC Productions
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 11.26.17
WP Theater, 2162 Broadway
by Sarah Moore on 11.8.17
Marg Helgenberger and Krysta Rodriguez in What We're Up Against. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: Theresa Rebeck's new-old play about feminism in the workplace shows that barely anything has changed in the past twenty-five years.
Hardly a period piece, Theresa Rebeck’s What We’re Up Against is making its off-Broadway premiere with the Women’s Project twenty-five years after it was written. The 1992 workplace dramedy (never performed until 2011) stars Krysta Rodriguez as Eliza, a sharp young architect who’s new to her firm. She’s been delegated to a broom closet of an office and hasn’t been given any projects to work on, despite having been hired by the CEO himself. Instead, the work is divided between Weber (Skylar Astin), who started just after Eliza; Ben (Jim Parrack), whom Eliza describes as the only person who knows what he’s doing; and Janice (Emmy winner Marg Helgenberger), a long time vet of the firm. Unlike Eliza, Janice is the type of woman who isn’t looking to step on anyone’s toes, and has avoided doing so during her long tenure.
After five months of getting paid to do nothing, Eliza takes a risk and puts Weber’s name on one of her designs to prove a point to their idiotic (and often drunk) boss Stu (Damian Young) that her talent isn’t being recognized because she’s a woman. Chaos ensues. Similar in subject matter to Penelope Skinner’s Linda, which played at Manhattan Theatre Club earlier this year, What We’re Up Against instead takes the perspective of the pre-millennial millennial. She’s talented and capable and she just wants to work, so why won’t they let her?
As any working woman knows, the problems of boys’ clubs and patriarchy are still rampant in office culture, whether you’re just starting out in the workforce, or you kicked down the doors. The topic seems to finally be breaking through into our New York theater scene, especially since last November. What We’re Up Against relies on some sitcom-y dialogue, and some standard dumb male tropes, though ultimately I found it to be an honest and realistic depiction of what it’s like to be a woman in the workforce—in any work force, at any age.
Krysta Rodriguez gives a dynamite leading performance as Eliza, bringing a lot of life and depth to a character about whom we're told very little. In fact, we're not given much background on any the characters, though all of the actors are extremely well cast and committed to their roles. Skylar Astin brings the perfect amount of weirdo charm and comic relief to Weber, and Jim Parrack’s Ben is a strong and stabilizing presence, while exuding that he truly is good at his job. Marg Helgenberger is completely authentic as the introverted colleague, and Damian Young is perfect as Stu, the jerk boss I’m grateful I’ve never had.
The dual-layered set by Narelle Sissons is clever and fits perfectly into the small space, efficiently giving us two different offices at once. Tilly Grimes' costumes by period-appropriate as well as very fashionable.
Perfectly directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt (Empathitrax), What We’re Up Against feels like a realistic depiction of a toxic office, which unravels in a quick 95 minutes. Even though the characters are all thinly drawn, and the most complex aspects of the writing seem to be in the design problems that Rebeck has dreamed up for the characters to solve, the play feels sadly topical for 2017...particularly since its premise ends the way many female-to-female conflicts do—with the women turning against each other.
(What We're Up Against plays at WP Theater, 2162 Broadway at 76th Street, through November 26, 2017. The running time is 95 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7, Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 2 and 8, and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $39- $89 and are available at wptheater.org or by calling 212-352-3101.)
What We're Up Against is by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt. Set Design is by Narelle Sissons. Costume Design is by Tilly Grimes. Lighting Design is by Grant Yeager. Sound Design is by M.L. Dogg. Production Stage Manager is Katie Young.
The cast is Skylar Astin, Marg Helgenberger, Jim Parrack, Krysta Rodriguez, and Damian Young.