Assistance @ Shoe-box Theatre (Portland, Oregon)

January 18, 2017

Assistance is a small stage production trying to isolate and concentrate a more venomous side of the executive assistant tongue, most popularized by the film The Devil Wears Prada. While in that work there is a terrific exposition of one central character, and the actual humor in the incidental work where before she had no interest to climb the corporate ladder of fashion, Assistance very vaguely showcases a uniform set of assistances who are wagering this is the fastest way for them to climb. But climb to where?

 

Perhaps because of the nebulous goals of quote “making it”, we see such exhaustion in their resolve and outright mania in trying to do too much in alleviating the burden of the big wig they all have to support. While the play does not outright make this suggestion, it is very clear that the ability for such a man, the boss, to accomplish so much, to have newspaper periodicals record his life and achievements, means he must have high energy, beyond the ranks of the normal person. It is this brute fact which each assistant has to confront; that they may not be wired like he is, in pursuing wealth and power, and so they suffer almost inexcusably from trying to chase after the same ring. It is this languidness that the audience has to absorb, like a punching bag in a psychotherapy session.

 

At the very least, this is a good introspection into the stresses of the daily Manhattan rat race of those who don’t have any creative methods for creating wealth and so have to use social networking to arrive at the right place at the right time. And for many of those of us who have no pecuniary obsessions, who do not feel starved if they are not sleeping on multi-thousand count threading at night, we are left scratching our heads. Only in the briefest of moments do we see the little engine that couldn’t, Heather, answer why she was killing herself to get ahead. Other than that, it appears to reiterate the previous observation of the uncanny energy the boss possesses, a sense of hero-worship among the assistants, to be so close and so ingrained in the daily life of a mover and shaker. Again, it is certain that many in the audience will be befuddled with interacting with such characters, and pity is a worthwhile emotion to be stirred for these lost souls who contrarily affirm that all that glitters is gold.

 

This may be seen as a dark comedy then; the lines are delivered frenetically, and so the precision of the cast to play off of each other must be commended, as well as being inundated with such “offices”. But this frenzy, again, leaves us puzzled and leaving the theater asking ourselves: “what’s the point?” In a more holistic sense, that is perhaps the objective of the playwright, to leave us being grateful for not inflicting so much self-harm. But it would be a bit more generous if we were not guessing as to how to feel once the absurdity reaches its climactic finale.

 

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2110 SE 10th Ave, Portland, OR 97214

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