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Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Carrie Paff, Michael Ray Wisely, and Mark Anderson Phillips
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Conspiracy theories abound and occasionally run amok in Ideation, Aaron Loeb's darkly comic play at 59E59 Theaters, about a corporate brainstorming session that conjures up images of the Holocaust, science fiction dystopian scenarios, and psychological experiments about obedience.

For 90 minutes, we are ensconced in a boardroom with a high power team that has been assigned to work on a top-secret plan involving the efficient "liquidation and disposal" of millions of bodies. Is this some sort of doomsday simulation aimed at testing the team's ingenuity, or are they pawns in some authentically horrific plot?

Answers are elusive for these smart and creative Type A personalities, adept as they are in the ways of manipulating global markets for the sake of profiteering. But now they have been given a task for which they are ill prepared, an imagined (they hope) situation in which some sort of killer virus has struck and is threatening all of civilization. They only way to contain it is to isolate and remove its victims from the rest of society.

Carrie Paff is Hannah, the only woman in the testosterone-infused room and the one who has been charged by the unseen CEO (voiced by Brian Dykstra) to make certain "the boys" get their work done "no matter what." The "boys," just back from a successful round of wheeling and dealing and taking advantage of the struggling economy in Greece, are the effusive Brock (Mark Anderson Phillips), the more grounded Ted (Michael Ray Wisely), and Sandeep (Jason Kapoor), an industrial engineer from India who raises the possibility that the others are being "paranoid about the wrong things," and that what they are actually working on is a Nazi-like plan for getting rid of "Mexicans, gays, or whomever they want to use it against." The cast is rounded out by Ben Euphrat as Scooter, a highly irritating child of privilege who is ostensibly there as Hannah's assistant.

The cleverness of the play lies in its examination of how the characters' well-honed problem solving skills fail them, leaving them to wrestle with highly unfamiliar moral and ethical issues that lead them down the path to paranoia. A well-honed process of filling a whiteboard with lists and diagrams about various models they might employ devolves over time into formulae conjecturing about what sinister plot might behind what they are being asked to do.

But what makes it all work so well is the highly polished performances of the cast members and the directing by Josh Costello. The entire company brings the play with them from its earlier well-received run at the San Francisco Playhouse, and their time together has fused everything into a terrific ensemble piece that is a whirlwind of witty dialog, physical comedy, and scary imagery.

Through April 17
59E59 Theaters - Theater A, 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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