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February 18, 2012

"Assistance" is an Amiable Workplace Comedy

Nearly every writer starts off imitating someone else.  Then if the novice has talent, he or she eventually develops his or her own unique voice.  In the old days, young playwrights modeled themselves after older playwrights.  But today, young playwrights are more likely to emulate young TV or movie writers. Or at least so it seems with Assistance, the new workplace comedy that’s currently in previews at Playwrights Horizons but that wouldn’t be out of place if it were scheduled in a sitcom time slot between “30 Rock” and “The Office.”

Luckily Leslye Headland, the show’s Los Angeles-based playwright who has indeed done some time in TV, has a knack for believably snappy dialog and so the evening is an entertaining one. And she’s come up with a scenario that is bound to strike a chord with the legions of bright young people who pour out of schools each year, eager to make their mark but reduced to marking time in thankless entry level jobs.

The over-worked and under-appreciated minions in Assistance are a group of assistants who work for a very wealthy, very demanding and often abusive big shot. They’re willing to take whatever he dishes out because those that survive the ordeal get to “move across the hall,” where they’ll get a crack at  becoming very wealthy and demanding themselves. 

Six of them go for that brass ring over the course of the play’s 80 minutes. The main two are Nick and Nora, who trade quips like their famous Dashiell Hammett namesakes but are so busy catering to their boss’s needs that they scarcely have time to acknowledge the romance that’s brewing between them (click here to see a trailer).

The cast is spot-on. Michael Esper and Virginia Kull are appealing as the ambition-crossed couple. A tart Amy Rosoff is the standout as the most unflappable of the assistants. And, of course, it’s always a pleasure to see Bobby Steggert on a stage.  Director Trip Cullman guides them and the other two members of the cast with an appropriately light touch.

Assistance isn’t the most meaningful play out there but it’s a genial one. Like Completeness, the similarly-amiable romcom that played at Playwrights Horizons last spring (click here to read my review) it would make a great play to see on a first date. Or when your favorite TV shows are in rerun. 

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