A Play by Richard Dresser
Directed by Patrick Day
This is my first play at the rather wonderful Young Actors Space in Sherman Oaks. They have a very impressive list of alumni and the plays they routinely produce in their theatre space cast from their current students.
This production of “Below The Belt” by Richard Dresser has actors drawn from their adult students and I can’t tell you how incredibly impressed I was by the calibre of their work.
“Below The Belt,” a highly regarded play from a multi-award winning playwright, is a brilliantly sinister take on the delights of the corporate system. Pitching employees against one another, and setting them wildly unreachable goals while dangling life changing rewards. Separating the management from the workers and the accountants from everyone else, maintaining an atmosphere of “them vs us,” “dog eat dog” and “survival of the fittest” all the while glamorizing the upper management and sending strategically released mixed messages.
It’s pure politics…and it plays out on stage in dank, unpleasant beauty, all unfinished sentences and awkward, unsettling remarks. In short, it’s bloody dark perfection.
The Young Actors Space, with guidance from their director Patrick Day, who also stars as “Merkin” in the all-male performances, has created a pure and mythologically wrought, grey, modern drama. The cast also rotated through three sets, one all male, one all female and one mixed. I saw the all-female production and it was exquisitely cast with Maura Corsini, Jule Nelson Duac and Melanie Starks, all equally outstanding and playing totally opposing characters who find themselves at odds with themselves and one another as they strive for acknowledgement in the abysmal workplace.
Set somewhere in the middle of nowhere, the team of three “checkers” are tasked with “checking” the product before it is shipped in several months' time. Since they are kept apart from the rest of the workforce lest they form attachments and this muddies their work, they are forced to created unlikely alliances with each other, but always with one eye on the door and their hand on the hilt of their sword, in a totally allegorical sense of course….
This is such sweetly dire drama that Shakespeare or Homer might tip their hats. It certainly put me in a Mamet mood at the very least. But the most interesting thing about the play was the way in which the language could be taken in so many ways, it is manipulation at the highest of levels, masterful in fact. Who are these people, what are they doing in this place, why would they agree to live in such discomfort and for what gain? So many questions, but in the end, it’s all a game, to them, to their employers and to us, but a game that holds a pretty bleak mirror up to our morbid and depressing corporate world.
And there’s the humor…and there is an awful lot of it. Dresser has twisted this darkness into a hilarious, icily intelligent glimpse into a future of desperation and separation. Will this team ever complete their task, will they ever get invited to the ball, and what are the creatures with glowing eyes that seem to be inside the fence now?
Be prepared to love this play. I adored the rivalry between them all, the newbie all shiny faced and hopeful, the old timer lonely and manipulative, the survivor just counting out the days until her release.
I highly recommend “Below The Belt” at The Young Actor Space. Now I’ve sampled their brilliance I really can hardly wait to see what next they have up their sleeves.
5918 Van Nuys Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91401
June 2 - 25 8PM Friday / Saturday 7PM Sunday