When I was a sophomore back in college, I cautiously remembered a conversation held in one of my marketing classes revolving around the safety of baby carriers and when to roll out an official recall. One member of the class took the bottom line approach, focusing on sales over safety. When pressed about what many considered his moral ambiguity at the heart of his answer, he simply quipped “well, I wouldn’t buy one for my kid.” Fast forward a decade plus and this same murky corporate moral ambiguity is at the heart of Jackalope Theatre Company’s compelling latest, Ideation. Set entirely in one of those sterile business conference rooms, a team of corporate consultants are tested, working together on a time sensitive, yet ethically ambiguous project. This dark comedy effectively pulls the audience in as the characters begin to ascend the rungs of this psychological suspense thriller style ladder. The tension builds as each member of the squad starts to melt down and crack under the mounting pressure, in both unsettling and often hysterical ways. The suspense tightly crafty as character’s allegiances turn on a dime. Think Survivor meets the Apprentice with macabre undertones. Who knows what and why, and more importantly who’s actually controlling the action? Are they puppets or puppets masters? Sorry, you will need to buy a ticket to discover the answers for yourself. Tersely directed by Gus Menary, Aaron Loeb’s words are brought to life by a entrancing troupe of Windy City talent.
The tight cast of characters includes the everyman, Ted (Michael Kingston) whose descent into exasperation will both amuse and startle. His partner Brock (Japhet Balaban) an arrogant, intimidating and pompous policymaker. Rounding out the quintessential quartet, Planning Engineer, Sandeep (Kaiser Zaki Ahmed) and Corporate Executive, Hannah (Rachel Sullivan) who share a secret that could be their collective downfall. Finally, entitled and misogynistic intern, aptly named Scooter (Henry Greenberg) who gets the ball rolling when his obvious condescension for his female superior rises the ire of Brock. Once assembled, these consultants are tasked with crafting a concept for a disposal system. No big deal until they realize they are disposing of a million or so victims of a massive pandemic. I did mention this is a dark comedy, right? As their deadline looms ever-present, their brainstorming quickly becomes at odds with their individual morality. With limited time, this 90 minute show plays out in real time, each knows the importance of fleshing out this concept and the significance of presenting the completed plan to their unseen “boss.” Dramatic tension levels rise when each realizes their jobs are now on the line. Should they risk their own livelihoods to satiate their crises of collective conscience? As thought provoking as it is sinister, their verbal barbs quickly reduced to actual fisticuffs. When type A personalities implode, and paranoia takes control, the collateral damage on display is as amusing as it is uncomfortable. Everyone walked away a little dirtier from the journey.
While the cast superbly clashed and sparred on stage, the creative team didn’t disappoint either. Corinne Bass’s conference room setting was neon overhead lighting and dry erase board perfection. Sarah Jo White’s costuming nailed the navy blue and heather grey palette of any contemporary corporate culture. Sasha Smith’s fight choreography was a natural extension of 90 suspense building minutes. Slick Jorgensen’s lighting lived up to his apt moniker as well. To be honest, my personal favorite Jackalope Theatre Company production was last year’s superb Prowess, with Ideation a very close second. Both dealing with themes related to the shadier side of human nature. Both slowly building tension while simultaneously capturing the audience for the entirety of their wild rides. Now in its 9th season, Jackalope Theatre Company is quickly emerging as a home for edgier and engrossing fare. While the idea of Ideation might sound a bit morbid, anyone who has spent any amount of time in corporate culture will recognize these distinctive architypes predominately on display. A pot-boiler of a good time, make certain you “clock in” for the compelling Ideation.
Jackalope Theatre Company presents Ideation is now playing at the Broadway Armory Park through June 25, 2017