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Unseamly

Theatre Review by Howard Miller


Gizel Jimenez, Jonathan Silver, and Tommy Schrider
Photo by Russ Rowland

"Everything is subject to interpretation," says one of the characters in Oren Safdie's Unseamly at Urban Stages, a play that is as hot as the headlines about last week's bankruptcy filing by clothing retail giant American Apparel and the stories of the sleazy behavior of the company's ousted CEO Dov Charney.

Like Charney, who happens to be a cousin of the playwright, the fictional character of Ira (Jonathan Silver) draws no line between business and pleasure, especially when it is his business and his pleasure we're talking about. He runs his clothing conglomerate, here called The Standard, like his own personal Playboy empire, with no holds barred as he coerces his female employees into every manner of sexual encounter. To date, he has been protected by a see-no-evil board of directors, the best lawyers money can buy, non-disclosure agreements, and quiet settlements of sexual harassment lawsuits.

But now, one of his former employees, Malina (Gizel Jimenez), is going after him. She has been making the rounds of the big law firms (none will touch the case due to its her-word-against-his nature), until she has reached the office of a middling attorney named Adam (Tommy Schrider). Adam, whose expertise is actually mergers and acquisitions, is torn between playing it safe and sending Malina on her way, or taking on the case in order to make a name for himself and to make partner before his own career winds up in the gutter where it seems to be heading.

From this premise, Unseamly takes us on a wild and merry carnival ride as Malina and Ira each get to tell and enact their side of the story, hence the "everything is subject to interpretation" quote. As seen through Malina's eyes, Ira is a narcissistic, self-indulgent, predatory sociopath, against whom she had no recourse. From Ira's telling, Malina is a sexually aggressive, power hungry, manipulative man-eater. From the attorney's perspective, the fact that Malina was barely 18 when the two of them began their sexual relationship is a major factor that could prove to be the tipping point in her case and in his faltering career.

The performances, under Sarah C Carlsen's pitch perfect direction, are first-rate all around. Ms. Jimenez's Malina is all twitchy and in every way evocative of someone who has been through an emotional trauma. She tells Adam she had a nervous breakdown immediately after leaving the corporation, and Adam evokes the Stockholm Syndrome when talking about her seeming inability to break it off with Ira during the months of her ordeal. For his part, Mr. Silver portrays Ira as a sex junkie, a self-justifying man with zero sense of boundaries, and someone with a sense of absolute entitlement to whatever it is he wants —an unbridled "terrible two" in an adult body. And while the role of Adam is necessarily a quieter one (he is the designated listener, after all), it is great fun to watch Mr. Schrider become caught up in the allure of the potential publicity and success this case could mean for him.

The word "fun" does seem to be an odd choice for describing a play about serious sexual harassment against a teenager. But the competing stories as they are played out are so outlandish, and the portrait of corporate greed and muck and the seductiveness of that 15 minutes of fame are so gloriously dramatized, that the whole evening takes on a biting, darkly comic edge that attracts as well as repulses. In the end, Unseamly is both a cautionary tale and a satiric glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and famous, the envious, and the wannabes.


Unseamly
Through November 1
Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix


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