During February and March of 2009, the pharmaceutical advertising firm of Sutton Feingold and McGrath is trying to recover from the previous year of fiscal disaster in New York City and elsewhere. Running the agency is blonde Tania (Cassie Beck), who is swift-talking, sassy, no-nonsense, and willing to mingle with Mark (Darren Goldstein). Evidently a company management type, Mark (with short red hair and beard) attempts to facilitate continued employment for himself and those around him. He might be seeing himself as a damage controller. Still, anyone working there could be fired on a moment's notice.
The most engaging, atypical, strangely magnetic character (and Schreck is quite adept as she draws and shades her personnel) is 22-year-old Amelia (Clare Barron). She sounds as if she is from Minnesota or Wisconsin. She is a doctoral student but cannot correctly pronounce Seoul. Now at NYU, she arrives at SFM to help basket-case Jun Suk (Nelson Lee) prepare for a presentation. Jun Suk's marriage is over and he is depressed, lacking in self-esteem, and justifiably skeptical when Amelia appears. He explains that he is American and she cannot fathom how that can be, given his ancestry.
Andrew Boyce's set showcases a shiny, glassed-in conference room where Amelia and Jun Suk gather. He initially sports a red shiner which disappears as the play evolves. Amelia begins with a questionnaire for Jun Sukthis is delightfully bizarre. He, a designer by trade, blurts out: "You are insufferable," and then must apologize. The truth is that actor Barron, with the widest blue eyes, is a combination of persistence and nervousness. At one point, Amelia demonstrates, with use of her hands and arms, just how Jun Suk can come across as a more certain, calmer and more collected individual. He attempts to mimic the movements and, well, this is quite a hoot.
Barbara (Lynne McCollough), who formerly worked at the agency, comes along briefly and tries to offer some friendly counsel to Amelia. Barbara explains that she left the place of her own free will.
Jun Suk, one infers, wowed his audience at the presentation and he, Mark, and Tania dance wildly to celebrate his victory. "How do you like me now?" he sings. Then he gives us a line from "More I Cannot Wish You" out of Guys and Dolls. We were informed during the early portion of the play that Jun Suk's 12-year-old son is in a production of that musical.
The show then veers off and turns much darker as layoffs begin. More I cannot tell yousince that would reveal the concluding sequence and finale.
Kip Fagan directs The Consultant and wisely pushes the pace of the show. You have to love Jessica Pabst's wardrobe choices, especially for the women. Amelia, for the most part, wears informal shirts, sweaters and pantsnot particularly professional. Tania is outfitted in a variety of tight skirts and blouses. She is the front person for SFM and so looks the part.
Schreck (who has also acted) furnishes sharp dialogue, and the two and three person exchanges among the performers is oftentimes quick, lively and razor-sharp. The ensemble group of actors is individually and collectively strong. For the most part, this is fine period-piece comedy which provides a quick mirror upon a recent timethe year after economic upheaval. The playwright's script takes a jarring turn at play's end and this is not fulfilling, not quite right.
The Consultant continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through February 9th. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit longwharf.org.
- Fred Sokol