Reduction in Force, a comedy by Patricia Milton, opened at The Bard’s Town and deals with the economic crisis and the corporate greed and callousness that allowed it to happen. It is a true-to-life farce about the backstabbing and conniving that goes on at the top.
Icarus Wealth Management, a shady Wall Street type firm (investing in hurricanes and trading in human organs are possible next moves), is downsizing to protect its profit margins. The screaming and begging of recently laid-off employees can frequently be heard off stage. Trader Gabby Deeds (Natalie Fields) must choose between two employees: her longtime secretary, Anita (Amy Steiger); and her new attractive mentee, Mitch (Ben Gierhart). What follows is a backstabbing fight to the death for the job.
The production makes use of some fine talent, and the play couldn’t have been better cast. Natalie Fields falls naturally into the larger-than-life role of Gabby Deeds. She has a deep, commanding voice and strong presence; and when she takes the stage she demands attention. She plays Gabby with a charming, happy narcissism that belies the evil she is willing to commit; because she is funny, we like her in spite of it. Gierhart and Steiger have chemistry together, especially when they begin to plot against Gabby. They are good foils for Fields, as they play crafty and anxious underlings against her oblivious confidence. They are like the clever mice to her powerful cat.
The problem with the play is that the characters are often painted too broadly even for a farce and the play tends to stay on one level. This slackens much of the tension in the first act, and the scenes drag. If the characters were played more realistically but with the ridiculously high stakes of farce it would be easier for the audience to connect with them. Part of this is the direction, but part of it is that the script meanders quite a bit early on before it sharpens in Act II.
Still, the world of the play itself is unique and one we don’t get to peer into or lampoon very often. The actors have wonderful comic moments. There is one gag in which secret information is written on a soft taco shell so that the information can be easily eaten and destroyed at a moment’s notice. At one point, Gabby demands that Anita hand over the taco shell that contains an important password; Anita desperately crams it into her mouth. When Ms. Milton writes in her program notes that a lot of the material in the piece appears farcical but is based on actual events, it’s the kind of brilliant touches like the taco shell gag where you have to ask, did that really happen?
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