|Nancy Madden, Sally Dana & Heather Gordon|
Even though classical music floats serenely through the attractively attired, office setting, any sense of peace and well-being is about to shatter as two execs and a lawyer enter the room clearly irritated and looking ready to go to war. In a scene oft-repeated in today’s corporate America, the three are trying to determine how to address a whistle-blower threatening to go public just as their firm’s new drug, Miracle, is ready to sweep the market and overthrow its prime, weight-loss supplement competitor. That the former Senior VP of Global Sales wants $10 million to keep quiet soon becomes the least of their problems when there arrives an accusation by the same person of suffering sexual harassment by the CEO and a new figure of $35 million for the CEO and company to avoid facing a jury and a media maelstrom.
When Artistic Director AJ Baker began writing her play, Disruption, in 2016 and when her own 3Girls Theatre Company decided to stage the world premiere at Z Below Theatre, the #MeToo movement had not yet swept the globe, although certainly sexual abuse cases were rampant under the sheets of corporate beds in hotels and back-offices worldwide. What makes AJ Baker’s play not only timely but startling is that the accuser is a man and the CEO, a woman. Is this a case of a man still taking advantage of a woman – in this case his former boss – or is this just the unfortunate, logical next step in a long history of corporate misuse of power and position as women finally begin to occupy top executive offices?
Each of the ninety minutes to find out that answer is packed with increasing tension and tantalizing twists and turns, with AJ Baker’s Disruption playing out like a page-turner, paperback novel that cannot be put down. The result -- while sometimes in its outpouring of new and surprising revelations a bit hard to swallow and believe -- is a solid entertainer and a fabulous way to spend an outing of live theatre.
Sally Dana is entirely credible as the hard-nosed, no-time-for-this-bullshit CEO, Dr. Andrea (“Andy”) Powell. She walks into a room with sure-faced cockiness that make many CEOs both feared and admired. Those eyes and firm scowl along with a brow knitted ever so slightly are sure signs of a brain that is constantly calculating how to take in the latest data and come to a quick answer of resolution. But as the details become juicier and more personal – bringing back the shock, feelings, and resulting guilt she has over the accidental death of her husband two years prior – Sally Dana’s performance becomes increasingly complex and compelling in her demonstration of a wide range of postures, reactions, and emotions.
Her colleagues in this war room of sorts are her chief of staff, Chis Friend, and Andy’s personal lawyer, Vivian Starr; and the three together are superior as they plan how to thwart the attacks coming at Andy and their Silicon Valley high-flying company, GeneFarm. One of the best scenes is when the three women start giggling and then outright bursting into laughter as they react in one particularly tense moment to Vivian’s demand of Andy, “Oh, man up,” and Chris’s echo of “Grow some balls.” Seeing women employing the same locker-room, military-laced calls to go fight the bastards is refreshing and yes, exhilarating.
As Chris, Heather Gordon is the loyal-to-the-end sidekick of the CEO who is both willing to confront her boss and yet to back down and be sacrificed if needed in order to save the leader’s own neck. Chris is at times hyper, even frantic as she scurries to get the facts her boss demands; and she is also visibly terrified and in remorse as past cover-ups come out where she, other execs, and even the board hid certain bad news from the woman at the top – not an unusual, corporate ploy that seems always to lead to more trouble in the end.
|Sally Dana, Louis Parnell, Heather Gordon & Nancy Maddon|
Nancy Madden is the thick-skinned, tough-talking lawyer, Vivian, who still has a soft spot for her long-time friend, Andy. Ms. Madden is nothing short of sensational in this role with her every move, stance, and declaration exactly what one might expect from a high exec’s personal lawyer who is willing to be brutally blunt when needed and passionately understanding when that will help her client make necessary decisions. The cocked head and stony stares along with those given straight-up and shoulder-back speak their own dialogue as loud as any wonderful lines that this talented actress delivers.
|Sally Dana, Nancy Maddon, Heather Gordon & Louis Parnell|
The women are periodically visited by the mediating, retired judge whose serene office they are using as they try to negotiate their way out of this mess. Louis Parnell doubles as the play’s director and as Judge Manny Diamond, donned in his obviously expensive three-piece suit – something he can easily afford, given his $2000/hour fee for being the go-between. This Judge has a smile/smirk that rarely leaves his countenance and a manner that is of an earlier generation unused to this all-female C-Suite, referring more than once to the gathered group as “Ladies.” But Mr. Parnell’s Judge is also clearly sympathetic to the cause of this client of his long-term friend, Vivian. The thicker the mud and mire, the more his eyes seem to twinkle as the Judge is delightfully enjoying the back-and-forth role he is playing to force the other side into an offer more fair than their opening lob of $35MM.
|Sally Dana & Timothy Roy Redmond|
One of the places Ms. Baker’s script becomes a bit hard to believe is a series of meetings that Andy is encouraged by her lawyer to have one-on-one with her accuser. But without these, we would miss meeting the full-of-himself, dripping-with-sleaze Lazlo Elza, the so-called abused party so deliciously played by Timothy Roy Redmond. Lazlo was once a direct report of Andy who happened to be at the right place at the right time to end up in bed with her in a Munich hotel when she was particularly vulnerable after her husband’s accident. The tearful confessions that came from her during that one night stand provide him just the ammunition he needs after he is subsequently reorganized into a new role and sent to Mexico, reporting as a Senior VP of Sales not to the CEO, but now to the VP of Finance. From the moment we meet him shadow boxing with an air of victory already exuding from his handsome self, Mr. Redmond’s Lazlo is the epitome of a cocky ex-lover who still clearly has the hots for the attractive CEO that has supposedly spurned him.
Disruption is often like a live version of an edgy, contemporary made-for-TV drama; and as such, it is exceptionally well-done and entertaining. Jeff Wincek’s scenic design has the look of a slick TV set with its well-manicured look of offices costing many tens of thousands of dollars to outfit while the worn outfits of this cast have expensive, designer-labels practically showing as created by Brooke Jennings. The sound design of Lance Jabr provides that corporate ambience of piped-in music and the continually interrupting cell phone rings and beeps. The lighting of Brendan Lee is a timed to the second to spotlight the latest revelation by shifting our focus from a new bit of information in one room to the person in the next whose name was just mentioned.
Employing Louis Parnell’s many skillful tricks and tips as director, the entire creative team and cast shines in ensuring that AJ Baker’s Disruption is an edge-of-your-seat, what-is-going-to-happen-next, Silicon Valley thriller – this time with the women in the executive suite taking the heat and showing us all what ‘balls’ really look like.
Rating: 4 E
Disruption continues through April 28, 2018 in a world premiere production by 3Girls Theatre Company at Z Below, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available at http://www.zspace.org/.
Photos by Mario Parnell