Cara Hicks & Leah Roberts in The Comparables. Photo by Bill Brymer.
By Laura Schelhardt
Directed by Steve Moulds
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
Theatre  is dedicated to relationships with current working playwrights, and in The Comparables they return to Laura Schelhardt, whose Auctioning the Ainsleys was an important success earlier in the company’s history. Where Ainsleys was expansive in its take on eccentric family dynamics, The Comparables is a tighter, equally incisive examination of power and manipulation among women executives in a real estate agency.
Bette (Zan Sawyer-Dailey) is the CEO of the company – an example of feminism writ large in the business world, who faces potential legal action over the perception that she prefers hiring women over more qualified men. As played by Sawyer-Dailey, she is a tough but comically eccentric figure, given to martial art posturing and Machiavellian power plays. Monica (Cara Hicks) has been with her for ten years, moving up in the ranks to become Bette’s #2 in the firm. A new hire, Iris (Leah Roberts) is young and hungry enough to circumvent Monica’s preliminary interview rejection to gain entry directly with Bette.
Schellhardt doesn’t entirely reveal her statement until the end, after we have been surprised to see what each of these women are capable of. The bitter pill is easily swallowed because the verbal and physical comedy is so expertly played, making for hilarious entertainment. But the hijinks, which reach a raucous peak in a fight adeptly choreographed by Sarah Flanagan, never obscure the themes and the smart narrative of the text. Each of the three women is complex and contradictory; there are no easy villains or heroes here, and there is potent identification between audience and character.
Much has been made in pre-show publicity of Zan Sawyer-Dailey being cast here. After years occupying an influential position at Actors Theatre of Louisville, her performance is sharp, funny, and wise, and one can only speculate on the inspiration for this ruthless character provided by her previous career. The role calls for a veteran’s experience, but since we are unaccustomed to seeing her onstage, Ms. Sawyer-Dailey’s presence feels fresh and revelatory.
Cara Hicks is another strong talent that would be welcome onstage more often. To the best of my knowledge, this is her first role since Auctioning the Ainsleys in 2013, and her sardonic sensibility and commitment has been missed. Monica arguably undergoes the most transition in the story, and Ms. Hicks makes the move from serious and conservative executive to disheveled walk-of-shame credible and compelling.
Leah Roberts is the ambitious Iris, and Ms. Roberts has walked in these heels before. Slightly tacky for the professional environment when she enters in her tight-fitting red dress and brilliant crimson lipstick, she displays a confident understanding of the character and charts her journey with assuredness and unfettered comic physicality.
Director Steve Moulds and his capable design team stage the play in the third floor gallery of the Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft, beautifully utilizing the window view of the Main Street architecture and the pristine, white environs of the gallery perfectly capture the pretentious aspect required for a self-important big-city real estate firm. Lindsey Chamberlin’s costumes are careful in their choices to reinforce character and narrative.
The Comparables asks a lot of questions, and convincingly posits the idea that the position of women in power is forever a more complex challenge than it is for men. Women can be as cutthroat as any man, but there are is separate range of judgment and punishment reserved for them as a result of sexism and double standard; just don’t assume that the pain will only come from men.
June 2-5 & 8-11 @ 8:00pm
Tickets are $22.
Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft
715 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.