The Grönholm Method
Implausibilities aside, the set-up is tantalizing from a theatrical point of view. Four people who are competing for the same job show up for what they believe is their final interview. But it is a group interview. More than that, the people who are asking the questions are nowhere to be seen. Instead, our four candidates receive messages through a sort of dumbwaiter; the messages give them problems to solve or tasks to perform. All the while they are, presumably, being watched and evaluated. They can leave at any time, but, if they leave, they're out of the running for the job. For their first task, they are told that one of their group isn't an applicant at all, but a member of the Human Resources team sent to evaluate them; they must identify the imposter. They are not told whether they were right in their guess; the interview continues with the candidates under the shadow of the idea that they are not all who they appear to be. As the play progresses, there are mind games aplenty, as we learn that several of the tasks have been specially selected to push particular applicants to the edge.
The play keeps its characters guessing, which is good; and keeps its audience guessing, which is better. However, to make the plot work, the script relies on more implausibilities. One character's phone rings mid-interview, and the applicant stops to take the call. You'd think that a job interview that is important enough to these characters to make them humiliate themselves in front of each other is important enough to earn the same common courtesy we afford strangers for two hours in a movie theatrebut the plot needs the call to be taken. And near the end of the play, one character takes much too long to make a particular move. The fault is in the script, not the direction. Anyone in that situationand definitely that characterwould make the move immediately. The delay is necessary for plot purposes, but I just couldn't buy it. I was also disappointed by the fact that, by the end of the play, the one female candidate has let her hair down from its professional up-do and tries to seduce another candidate. Perhaps this could be forgiven as simply the character's attempt to play the game she felt she had to play, but it's a move that has been done to death, and this character seems way too self-defined as a professional to rely on the old let-her-hair-down chestnut.
For the play's American premiere, the Falcon Theatre has assembled a quality cast. Jonathan Cake plays Frank, the ... well ... asshole of the bunch. Over-confident in his well-tailored black suit, Frank sizes up his competition and figures out how to best take them down. But his assholery goes beyond mere competitiveness; Frank gratuitously insults his competition when they're already down, amusing himself with his own cleverness. Cake is at his best, though, at the end of the play, when Frank's insults reach a new level, and Cake plays it absolutely seriously. Stephen Spinella plays Rick; his tan suit doesn't seem to fit quite as well as Frank's black one. Rick is nervous and talkative. When the first task arrives and the applicants each start working on it, Rick is the one who thinks that they should work together as a group, rather than competitively. Rick is also the first one to be given a task that exposes his past, and when he is initially reluctant to reveal the truth, Spinella makes him downright pitiable. The third man is Carl (blue suit, spiffy vest), played by Graham Hamilton. Carl doesn't really come into his own until the end of the play when he, like Rick before him, is assigned a task he absolutely does not want to do. Hamilton makes some obvious acting choices here (one can't say more without revealing too much), and it may be that something subtler would have been more effective. Lesli Margherita is Melanie (burgundy suit, goldenrod blouse), the very image of a self-confident professional woman; Frank knows from the start that Melanie is his only real competition in the room, and he's not wrong. But just as Cake is ultimately called upon to take Frank to another level, Margherita must do the same with Melanie, and, for a few minutes, the two of them take this play someplace exceptional.
For the most part, though, there isn't much here that we haven't seen weekly in reality television. Folks competing for a job? "The Apprentice." Can't leave without quitting the game? "Big Brother." Voting each other out? "Survivor." A spy among us? "The Mole." The Grönholm Method is at its best when it takes its characters further than reality television has (yet) dared to go; it just takes an awful long time to get there.
The Grönholm Method runs at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank through September 30, 2012. For tickets and info, see www.FalconTheatre.com.
Baby Tiger Productions, Daniel Wallace and Trish Whitehurst, in association with Falcon Theatre present The Grönholm Method by Jordi Galcerán Ferrer; translation by Anne Garcia-Romero and Mark St. Germain. Scenic Designer Brian Webb; Lighting Designer Jennifer Schriever; Costume Designer Ann Closs-Farley; Sound Designer Cricket Myers; Los Angeles General Manager MB Artists; Casting by Stuart Howard, Paul Hardt; Stage Manager Sue Karutz. Directed by BT McNicholl.
Photo by Chelsea Sutton