Regional Reviews: Boston
I'm teasing words from Loeb's new play Ideation, now playing at New Repertory Theatre and directed by New Rep's Artistic Director Jim Petosa. Loeb is a San Francisco Bay area playwright whose work has been performed around the country; other works include The Proud, Alcestis (Doesn't Live Here Anymore), Brown, First Person Shooter, Blastosphere (with Geetha Reddy) and Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party. Described as a "satirical dark comedy," Ideation is a sharp, nuanced take on big philosophical questions like how can we determine the truth and how responsible are we to stand up to (perceived) injustices. He approaches such topics through the venue of a harshly lit conference room and a meeting of engineers and consultants spewing opaque business jargon and laughing at their own unfunny jokes ("How was Crete?" "Full of Cretans!") between sips of Starbucks coffee.
The firm has gathered to present various options and provide a fulfillment plan (sheesh, now I'm doing it) for a mysterious client, the details of which Loeb gradually reveals in a calculating and impactful manner. I won't give anything away, but "dark" is an apt adjective and the veneer of the insufferable yet genuinely funny jocks in suits is disarming. The set is (intentionally) sterile and words like "prelim" are mind numbing, though appropriately so for the plot, but the show is lively; Loeb's text nimbly toggles from laugh-out-loud, quick-witted humor to morbid beats that are sobering for audience and characters alike. The small ensemble cast carries this energy skillfully.
It's difficult to pick stand-outs when everyone is so good, so I'll give the full rundown: Christine Hamel (previous New Rep credits include Brecht on Brecht, Broken Glass, On the Verge, Ragtime, Sweeney Todd) plays Hannah, the head executive (and only woman) in the room who can join in the brackish joking one moment and snap the men to attention the next with ease. Whether it's a sly smile or a burst of emotion, Hamel administers just the right amount every step of the way. Matt Ketai (in his New Rep debut) and Ed Hoopman play engineer/consultants Sandeep and Ted, respectively. Ketai (regional credits include Dracula, Or The Undead with Williamstown Theatre Festival; A Christmas Carol with Trinity Repertory Company; and Othello with Actors' Shakespeare Project) begins with Casanova swagger and Hoopman with confident charm, but as the stakes of the plot increase over the show's one hour and forty-five minute run time, neither character can maintain their untroubled airs (Hoopman previously appeared in New Rep's Mister Roberts, Indulgences, Macbeth and Hamlet).
Lewis D. Wheeler plays Brock, a sort of ringleader among the consultants, or at least fearless and obnoxious enough to be. Simple details do wonders for building character, and Wheeler has mastered the MBA gum chewing (previously in New Rep's The Gift Horse, Muckrakers, Pattern of Life, among others, and Bostonian Society's Blood on the Snow). All take their characters from seeming like almost one-dimensional archetypes of any vague "consulting" office to revealing the nuanced human beings hidden behind the jokes and jargon, and they make it easy for the audience to come along on the ride. Jake Murphy (Brecht on Brecht, Mamihlapinatapai with Boston Playwrights' Theatre, The Human Comedy with Boston University) bookends the play in the smaller but no less significant role of Scooter, the young intern not yet out of business school who is hilariously obliviousuntil perhaps he's not, but you'll have to see the show to decide for yourself.
That's just what the characters attempt to do: look at all possible scenarios and determine the best course of action depending on which one seems to be closest to the truth. It's what we all do, every day, to varying degrees; we have to keep "ideating" to figure out our options, hence Loeb's title. Loeb's exploration of this demonstrates that we rarely have all the facts, and everyone's experience and knowledge is limited, but we still have to make choices. As it goes with most great works of fiction, Ideation provides commentary and inspires reflection on related struggles in our world. As Loeb's characters grapple with this process onstage, you will likely find yourself applying similar methods to examine the endless list of possible realities constantly swirling around us.
Ideation runs through September 24, 2017, in the Mainstage Theater at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown MA. Tickets are $35-$65 and may be purchased by calling the New Rep box office at 617-923-8487 or visiting newrep.org. Student, senior and group discounts are available, as are subscription packages.