×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

What We’re Up Against

Theresa Rebeck's Magic premiere is a juicy black comedy with the potential to travel as widely as the TV scenarist and novelist's prior stage intrigue, "Mauritius."

With:
Ben - Rod Gnapp
Eliza - Sarah Nealis
Weber - James Wagner
Stu - Warren Keith David
Janice - Pamela Gaye Walker

“They told me it wasn’t like this anymore. Why is it still like this?” bemoans the central figure late in “What We’re Up Against,” her head slamming into an architecture firm’s glass ceiling yet again. Theresa Rebeck’s Magic premiere probes how sexism remains well-entrenched in the upscale workplace, not least when pitting women against each other in a boys’ club atmosphere. While some of its edges could still be sharpened a tad, this juicy black comedy has the potential to travel as widely as the TV scenarist and novelist’s prior stage intrigue “Mauritius.”

Like that work, her latest overdoes the Mamet-speak a bit at first as trigger-tempered hotshot Ben (Rod Gnapp) and scotch-soaked supervisor Stu (Warren Keith David) vent expletive-riddled spleen at the “bad attitude” and other perceived crimes of the “dishonest little manipulator” shoe-horned into their division. She is Eliza (Sarah Nealis), hired fresh out of school by unseen, feared company chief David because (we later learn) he considers her “eight times smarter than the boneheads” in the “bottom-feeder” department she’s assigned to.

Far from inspired, said boneheads resent her presence. In turn, Eliza resents being given nothing to do six months into her hire. To prove that’s a result of sexism, she has submitted a solution to a $6 million strip-mall redesign’s previously insoluble bugaboo — crediting it to Weber (James Wagner), a vacuous “golden boy” of the type who has no real ideas of his own yet will inevitably arse-kiss his way up any ladder, and who has even less seniority than she does. Of course, Stu admires “his” design, then is infuriated when Eliza reveals the deception.

This only gets her in worse straits, even with the company’s sole non-coffee-delivering “other girl” — Janice (Pamela Gaye Walker), a comparative veteran considered “team player” precisely because her stale ideas and overeager deference flatter the menfolk.

“Patience is a virtue,” she advises exasperated Eliza, who ripostes “Is it?” Ironically, dyed-in-wool chauvinist Ben proves the only person here ultimately bright (or not blinded by self-interest) enough to appreciate Eliza’s “threatening” genuine talent.

Rebeck needn’t have dumbed down some architectural jabber so much — we can grasp Weber and Janice lack creative inspiration without the latter announcing “a coat of paint” as a major design stroke. But Magic a.d. Loretta Greco’s sharply cast, paced and designed (Skip Mercier’s sleek set rolling a few pieces about to represent various offices) production makes the most of a satisfying text whose white-collar skullduggery climaxes in an oddly redemptive quadruple-cross.

Popular on Variety

What We're Up Against

Magic Theater, San Francisco; 160 seats; $60 top

Production: A Magic Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Loretta Greco. Set, Skip Mercier; costumes, Alex Jaeger; lighting, Sarah Sidman; sound, Sara Huddleston; production stage manager, Danielle Callaghan. Reviewed Feb. 10, 2011. Opened Feb. 9. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast: Ben - Rod Gnapp
Eliza - Sarah Nealis
Weber - James Wagner
Stu - Warren Keith David
Janice - Pamela Gaye Walker

More Legit

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

  • A Very Expensive Poison review

    London Theater Review: 'A Very Expensive Poison'

    Vladimir Putin owes his power to the stage. The president’s closest advisor trained as a theatre director before applying his art to politics, and ran Russia like a staged reality, spinning so many fictions that truth itself began to blur. By scrambling the story and sowing confusion, Putin could exert absolute control. The long-awaited latest [...]

  • Betrayal review Tom Hiddleston

    Broadway Review: 'Betrayal' With Tom Hiddleston

    and Zawe Ashton as a long-married couple and Charlie Cox as the secret lover. Director Jamie Lloyd’s impeccable direction — now on Broadway, after a hot-ticket London run — strips Pinter’s 1978 play to its bare bones: the excruciating examination of the slow death of a marriage.  It’s a daring approach, leaving the characters nowhere [...]

  • Jayne Houdyshell arrives at the 71st

    'The Music Man' Revival Adds Four Tony Winners to Broadway Cast

    Tony Award-winners Jayne Houdyshell, Jefferson Mays, Marie Mullen and Shuler Hensley will join stars Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in the upcoming Broadway revival of “The Music Man.” In “The Music Man,” Jackman will play con-man Harold Hill, who arrives in a small, fictional Iowa town called River City and urges the townsfolk to start [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content