Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

3Girls Theatre
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Jeanie's review of Amadeus and Patrick's review of Saturday Night

Sally Dana, Heather Gordon, and Nancy Madden
Photo by Mario Parnell
You've got to hand it to AJ Baker, the author of Disruption, which opened in a world premiere production Saturday night at ZSpace Below in a 3Girls Theatre production—her timing is impeccable. Set in the offices of a Silicon Valley-based pharmaceutical company, the story of claimed sexual harassment is perfectly aligned with the current #metoo zeitgeist.

The twist here is that the alleged harasser is not a creepy male predator using his power and authority to lure/coerce women into his hotel room, but the attractive female CEO of GeneFarm, a fictional company in the last months of clinical trials of a new drug that, if it gains FDA approval, threatens to revolutionize the weight loss market. Hundreds of millions of dollars and years of work are on the line, so CEO Dr. Andy Powell (Sally Dana) has summoned her attorney Vivian (Nancy Madden) and right-hand woman Cris (Heather Gordon) for a mediation session in an attempt to avoid a trial—and the associated publicity and potential hits to GeneFarm's brand image. The mediator, a retired judge played by Louis Parnell, moves back and forth between conference rooms holding the two parties in conflict: Dr. Powell and her team in one, and the accuser and his team (unseen) in another, offstage space.

But by choosing to keep the accuser mostly off stage (his legal team are never seen), Baker fails to exploit much of the tension that is inherent in these kinds of stories. There are scenes where Dr. Powell and her accuser come face to face, and though these reveal some of the truth behind the accusations, it's hard to believe savvy lawyers would allow their clients to meet unaccompanied by counsel outside of the mediation environment. (The action takes place all in the course of a single day, in a conference room at GeneFarm and in Dr. Powell's office at the company.)

The actors acquit themselves relatively well, given the weak script. Sally Dana (caveat: I've been personal friends with Sally for 30+ years) does good work walking a fine line: revealing the pressure her character feels as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated job (with all the baggage that brings), and the challenges of being a good parent and wife while simultaneously doing a job that requires constant attention to detail without losing sight of the big picture. She has mastered the dismissive, no-time-for-fools-or-inefficiency attitude one often confronts in CEOs, while also revealing the seriousness with which she takes her responsibilities. She's never actively "bitchy," but it's easy to see how her (completely justified) anger could be interpreted in a sexist way.

As the self-interested, somewhat secretive chief of staff Cris Friend, Heather Gordon is marvelous. We can sense her machinations and double-dealings at work beneath the surface, and we both hate and understand her, which is a testament to Gordon's fine performance. It's too bad playwright Baker couldn't have found a way to resolve Cris's storyline in a more satisfying way.

Nancy Madden's role of Vivian Starr, Dr. Powell's personal attorney, is the best written and most believable of Baker's characters—possibly because Baker herself is a lawyer. Madden brings a sense of fierce caring to the role, making Vivian the one person who is watching out for Dr. Powell's best interests—even more than Dr. Powell herself.

Jeff Wincek's scenic design captures the blandness of corporate America perfectly, right down to the perfectly hideous salmon-colored walls and abstract but inoffensive artworks. Sound designer Lance Jabr is to be complimented for actually using rings and alerts that emanate from the cell phones on stage, rather than playing them through speakers, adding to a feeling of verisimilitude.

There's a fascinating—and important—story in here, but Baker's play lacks a compelling dramatic arc, and fizzles its way to a too-easy resolution. Her characters are for the most part underwritten: we rarely get a sense of the real people who exist behind their job descriptions, so we are not as deeply involved in their conflict as we ought to be. As Vivian says to Dr. Powell at one point, "When it's about money and revenge, people will surprise you." Sadly, there just aren't enough surprises here, and Disruption fails to resonate.

Disruption, through April 28, 2018, at the Z Below, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00pm, with matinees Sundays at 3:00pm, and a bonus matinee Saturday April 28 at 3:00pm. Tickets are $35-$55, available at

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