Playwright Leslye Headland is likely good at a minimum of four things: grammar, being an assistant, reading people, and writing plays. Each of these traits is quite obvious from a brief, yet incredibly entertaining evening at Playwrights Horizons to take in a performance of Assistance.
Six mixed-up, shook-up, wired-up, young assistants get messed-up, chewed-up and spit-out by an un-seen, un-heard un-relenting, un-kind, president of the company. Mr. David Weisgert, whom we never actually see or hear, is indolent, un-reasonable, demanding, and over-the-top, and drives these assistants – both literally and figuratively – crazy.
The goal in the office seems to be to get in (that’s hard) and get out - “across the hall” as fast as you can (even harder). Part dig on corporate America, part study of what drives people to crave these maddening jobs, and mostly just an hysterical, all-too-familiar composite of some bosses we once knew and truly hated.
Nick (Michael Esper) and Nora (Virginia Kull) work out their issues through flirting and eventually sex (in the office). Jenny (Sue Jean Kim) gets cut while she’s still an intern, Vince (Lucas Near-Verbugghe), a bit of a creep, is the first to “make it out”. Jenny (Amy Rosoff) brings her ice-cool British-game to the office and Justin, a.k.a Bird (Bobby Steggert) puts in his time on the road with the boss as his personal assistant, suffers the battle scars to prove it, and eventually “makes it” into the office too. One by one they rise… and fall.
The dialogue is quick, the banter, believable and the non-stop telephone-ballet, quite impressive. I’m not saying that any of these talented actors should ever be unemployed and working the phones – but either many of them have indeed suffered the pains of an office assistant job, or they are quick studies not only into the art, but also the emotional intensity. Either that, or director Trip Cullman is one hell of a teacher.
Maybe it’s a little bit of all that - so tightly wound and ready to explode each night - that makes Assistance an 80-minute romp on West 42nd Street each and every night.