“They told me it wasn’t like this anymore. Why is it still like this?” states Eliza (Lesley McBurney), to female co-worker Janice (Cherie Mendez). The problem here is Janice has adopted the “team player” attitude and doesn’t stir the pot in Theresa Rebeck’s What We’re Up Against. Handled with aplomb by Life Force Arts, Inc and director Lorca Perez. The work force is still sexist and if you are talented in a man’s world, they will try to put you down. Here the men down expensive scotch, curse up a storm, vomit vulgarities that would make Trump look saintly and think that calling the women the “C” word is acceptable.
Hitting the architecture firm’s glass ceiling for five months Eliza has confronted her supervisor Stu (Vince Bandille) to be allowed to be let in and work. She has turned in plans for a $6 million strip-mall redesign with a solution to a air duct problem, that nobody can solve. She has crediting the plan to Weber (Bones Rodriguez). Webber is lower on the totem pole, but he is a kiss ass described as the “golden boy,” and more importantly he is a man in a man’s world. Webber is all talk and no action and Eliza is sick of a man with less seniority getting all the breaks. When Eliza reveals the deception Stu is out for blood, Eliza’s, because he can see this “women” upsetting him. He complains to Ben (Ean Sheehy) who is agreeable with the no women in the work place clause. When Ben hears that Eliza has solved the problem, he wants to see those plans. Instead Stu adds Janice to the team. When Eliza hears this she storms in with threats of going above Stu’s head to the head of the company David because she is his hire and he considers her “eight times smarter than the rest of the department and in truth she is. To placate Eliza, Stu gives her a low paying job Janice was to accomplish. When she does just that, the wolves are out for more of her blood. In a meeting shortly after Janice throws Eliza under the bus as does everyone except Ben. In the end Eliza prevails, but at what cost to her soul?
What We’re Up Against shows how sexism remains entrenched to the bowls, even in an upscale workplace. Men are not just the enemy, but women turn like backstabbing vipers when their place is threatened.
Ms Rebeck’s play is dark, timely, foulmouthed, juicy and seems like it is placed in the 50’s not now, but the truth is we have not come along way baby. We delude ourselves if we think we have. What is never explained is why Eliza doesn’t just go to David. There are a few twists and turns that could be cleaner.
Both Ms. McBurney and Mr. Sheehy shine in this production. Mr. Sheehy starts of with a banter that puts Mamet to shame and we understand every word. He has the biggest arc in the play. Ms. McBurney takes what could have been a role written for a shrew and makes her rabid with ferocity, but allows us to see the venerability underneath. Both interesting actors and I look forward to seeing them in more. Mr. Rodriguez is miscast. The dialogue keeps stating he is a beautiful and a kiss ass up the ladder but he doesn’t find the subtitles nor does Ms. Mendez or Mr. Bandille. These are juicy role that need to slow the deepest layers like Ms. McBurney.
The set by Jennifer Varbalow and projections by Chris Marston are first rate and show how simplicity can be so powerful.
Ms. Perez is a director to watch as she makes this show feel effortless.
This is a company with actors to follow and a play that will have you in conversation for at least a couple of days.
What We’re Up Against:Life Force Arts at the June Havoc Theatre, 312 West 36th St. until Oct. 29th.