Theaters hoping for another “God of Carnage” – another smart European four-hander Americanized for maximum comic impact – will find their grail in Jordi Galceran Ferrer’s “The Gronholm Method,” an absolutely smashing satire of corporate gamesmanship which (especially these days) hits audiences right where they live: in their livelihood. Although this riveting piece is going to have a long, long life, local auds might as well get in on the ground floor with BT McNicholl’s beautifully staged U.S. premiere at Burbank’s Falcon.
The stakes in the top marketing/PR slot at Fortune 500 mainstay Burnham + Burnham are clear with one look at Brian Webb’s gleamingly elegant waiting room set. Decorated to the nines with everything from the tasteful abstract wall paintings to the expensive bottled water on the glass tabletops, the room exudes a sweet smell of success. (A peek of corporate logo just outside the main door is a marvelous touch.)
Our final four applicants are on the surface stereotypical, but as superbly played by the Falcon quartet they’re recognizable human beings all: the cynical smoothie in the Don Draper mode (Jonathan Cake); the chatty middle-aged family man (Stephen Spinella); and two MBA pals, a young hotshot (Graham Hamilton) and a Type A lady (Lesli Margherita) who knows she has to hustle twice as hard in a man’s world.
For a while, each aspirant assesses the competition in some amusing one-upmanship byplay. But much more is going on than meets the eye, because B+B proves to be one of those “enlightened” firms which push hopefuls to the edge in a series of stunts and psychological hoops to test their mettle.
A side drawer keeps opening, its contents glowing like the “Pulp Fiction” briefcase, with envelopes containing challenges the candidates are to execute successfully or get booted from the boardroom. Or a set of wacky hats the quartet must don, for a hilariously stressful roleplay session.
It would be criminal to say more of what transpires, except to confidently assert that on this winding journey of mind-bending surprises, you’re not likely to hold your breath in a theater with more expectancy this year.
Yet as captivating as the human drama is, we can’t forget the real target, an entrenched system of power operating in secret to play wage earners like marionettes. Like “God of Carnage,” “Gronholm” is in the grand tradition of European playwrighting in which political allegory sits lightly beneath the boulevard comedy surface.
It’s a tribute to Ferrer and McNicholl, as well as to trusty translators Anne Garcia-Romero and Mark St. Germain, that the tension between dramatic situation and theme is so artfully balanced. Whatever the “Method” employed, this is an event to savor.