Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell
August 3, 2023 Issue
A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.
PART 4A: TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW BY KURT BENRUD
Chris Shuptrine's Numbers Are Down Is Well-
Written, Well-Performed, and Well Worth Seeing
The RedBird Theater Company will stage Chris Shuptrine's Numbers Are Down, directed
by David Berberian, on July 27-Aug. 5 at the Center Theater Company in Durham
Some of my all-time favorite TV shows used to start with the assertion that the episode was "recorded in front of a live studio audience." I have found myself wondering what it would feel like to be a part of that audience. RedBird Theater Company's current production, Numbers Are Down, written by Durham, NC native Chris Shuptrine and directed by David Berberian, simulates that situation; and they do a delightful job of it. In essence, we are treated to two realities. That is, in addition to the reality of the world of the play, there is a reality of "Here I am a member of a live studio audience." More on that later (in the "Nice Touches" department).
The play is set in a basement office of a company called "Abacus." We meet a pair of office mates, their supervisor, an executive "from upstairs," and the girlfriend of one of the office mates. Abacus ("not a forward-looking company") has been experiencing some hard times. Because "numbers are down," there have been layoffs and other cost-cutting measures.
How will this affect our new-found friends? Buckle up and stand by for 75 minutes of hilarity (laced with a bit of food-for-thought).
The play takes advantage of our common notions about office stereotypes without letting the characters actually become the stereotypes, and the actors play these notions to the hilt while keeping their characters from seeming like "cartoon characters."
The dialogue is crisp and witty; the pace and the timing are impeccable. Additionally, we are treated to more than a few sight gags, as well as levity arising from mistaken assumptions.
Monica Hoh plays Max, a twenty-something who is ambitious, optimistic, and hard-driven. She comes to work early every day, she stays late, and she takes work home.
Jeffrey Eason plays Andy -- slightly older than Max and definitely her antithesis. He arrives late, leaves early, avoids doing any actual work, and snaps up every opportunity for taking time off.
This dynamic notwithstanding, Hoh's and Eason's characters mesh splendidly. Pay attention to what is (and is not) on their desks (including a framed picture).
Pamir Kiciman plays Frank, their supervisor. Even though he's not what we would call "old," he is definitely burned-out and over-the-hill (and he knows it). Mouthing office platitudes, Kiciman's character no longer bothers to try to hide his awareness of the futility of his motivational efforts.
As Lucy, Donna J. Smith is a picture-perfect executive. She commands everyone's respect, in some cases inspiring fear.
Nicole Gabriel is Cassie, Andy's girlfriend (who is a recent hire in the company's legal department). There is an unquestionable chemistry between these two.
Suffice it to say: there is nothing predictable about where the plot will take us.
Although the program does not credit specific designers, I do wish to commend the production team for the design of the set. And it is worth noting that every character wears a different costume in each scene (because very few people wear the same clothes every day).
Above the set are two signs: "APPLAUSE" and "LAUGHTER," like we would expect in a recording studio for a TV sitcom.
Preshow music is of the smooth-jazz, "elevator music" genre that instantly conjures up "office building."
Each scene (including the opening one) is preceded by a technician who, notepaper in hand, scurries on stage and tends to the set-properties, making sure that "every I is dotted and every T is crossed." She signals the stage manager that we are "all clear," and she leaves the stage. Then the action begins. This self-conscious setting-of-the-scene is an in-your-face reminder that we are a "studio audience."
In addition to the focused stage lighting, there are fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling.
The nameplates of recently laid-off employees are still on their empty upstage desks.
Thursday's opening-night performance began a bit of standup comedy by Izzy Burger, who capped off her set by introducing the members of the cast (a nice touch). Burger returned for another performance on July 29th, but other nights will feature different comics as "opening acts."
From the Department of Picky-Picky
(And These Are Quite Picky!):
The second hand on the wall clock moves, but the minute and hour hands do not. I found myself wondering if there was a reason for that.
Mimed coffee! With so much attention that is drawn to the office coffee pot, it was blatantly obvious that actors were pouring from an empty pot.
The actor who plays the set-changing technician is not credited in the program.
The Bottom Line:
RedBird chose this locally written play from nearly 50 submissions. It is well-written, well-performed, and well worth seeing.
Chris Shuptrine's NUMBERS ARE DOWN (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 30 and Aug. 2-5), directed by David Berberian and starring Jeffrey Eason as Andy, Nicole Gabriel as Cassie, Monica Hoh as Max, Pamir Kiciman as Frank, and Donna J. Smith as Lucy (RedBird Theater Company at the Center Theater Company in Durham). TRAILERS: . PRESENTER: https://www.redbirdtheatercompany.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/RedBirdTheaterCo. 2023 SEASON: https://www.redbirdtheatercompany.com/current-season. VENUE: https://www.centertheatercompany.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CenterTheaterCompany, and https://www.instagram.com/CenterTheaterCompany/. DIRECTIONS: https://www.mapquest.com/us/nc/durham/27707-3467/4221-garrett-rd-35.9602,-78.97545. NOTE: There will be an opening act by a North Carolina comedian before each performance. The comedians will include Willis Maxwell, Jr. (July 30th), Jeremy Alder (Aug. 2nd), Brandi Roberts (Aug. 3rd), Tony Castleberry (Aug. 4th), and RJ Jurgensen (Aug. 5th). TICKETS: $20 general admission, plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: email@example.com. PLEASE DONATE TO: RedBird Theater Company.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights' Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with North Carolina Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review.
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