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This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the January 8, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama Review: `Big Boys’

You’re just jealous because I have a firm grip on absurdity,"

quips Victor, the corporate head honcho in Rich Orloff’s new comedy,

"Big Boys." This is one of the few lines in the play that

is not an exaggeration. Opening this week at Playwrights Theater of

New Jersey in Madison, "Big Boys" is a whacked-out, well-crafted,

two-person play depicting the sort of unbridled egotism pervading

big corporations that audiences have come to expect in this post-Enron

scandal era.

This world premiere is a Playwrights co-production with the New Jersey

Repertory Company in Long Branch. After completing its month-long

run in Long Branch the production has moved to PTNJ, 33 Green Village

Road, where it opens Friday, January 10, and runs to Sunday, January

26.

Reading somewhat like a skewed 21st century version of "A Star

is Born," "Big Boys" tells the story of Norm Waterbury

(Michael Irvin), a twerp-ish corporate wannabe, who is applying for

an executive job at a mega-corporation run by Victor Burlington (Al

Mohrmann). But even before he is hired, Norm is already a fish out

of water. Intent on maintaining his moral integrity and "helping

mankind," Norm still hopes to make a big splash in the big ugly

corporate world.

Norm gets the job and Victor, the quintessential emotionally abusive

boss who enjoys firing his employees on a whim, puts his new charge

through the ringer.

"Did you do any fornicating this weekend?" asks Victor. "Do

you fantasize seeing me naked?" When Norm balks at the notion

of unethical business practices and tries to quit, Victor locks the

door from the inside. After Victor harangues him for losing his girlfriend

and being disowned by his parents, Norm is reduced to tears. Now at

his nadir, Norm allows Victor to build him up in his own image; he

becomes an "asshole in training."

Alas Norm proves to be equal to the task, but on his own terms, and

the play ends all saccharin sweet with a death and a moral twist.

But "Big Boys" is more than its plot. Its charm lies in its

heightened lunacy and the often witty dialogue between its two archetypical

schnooks.

Michael Irvin and Al H. Mohrmann are both fine comic actors with excellent

timing (The "I-like-you," "I-lick-you" exchange is

particularly funny). To say that their performances are cartoonish

in no way belittles their craftsmanship. Both actors understand that

the play’s emotions bear only a passing resemblance to real feelings

and wisely whisk right on past.

Reminiscent of a youthful Wallace Shawn, Irvin pouts

and waddles his way through the first half of the play, alternating

between hopefulness, obstinacy, and utter confusion. Mohrmann as Victor

is crass and thoroughly unlikable as he gleefully carves his subordinate

up into emotional ribbons.

But while neither character, as written, is the sort of person one

would like to sit next to on a crowded airplane, Irvin’s and Mohrmann’s

performances are so mutually fine-tuned that the play remains a pleasure.

Mohrmann manages to keep the audience on his side, in an almost Groucho

Marx-like way, with his gleeful and impudent manner. ("Yeah, I

sleep in a suit," he says. "I like to make business decisions

in my sleep.") Irvin, whose character is the redoubtable victim,

comes through in the end like a corporate Rocky Balboa.

John Pietrowski’s direction is also a plus. With only two actors and

the questionable subject matter it would be easy for things to crash

and burn. But Pietrowski keeps the action natural in the midst of

the craziness, tweaking the dialogue just enough that the audience

never takes the story too seriously. The actors seem to be enjoying

themselves throughout the show (a mark of a good director); the jokes

are nicely paced — quick, but not rushed; and the stage action

is comfortably choreographed and evenly executed. The audience is

never left in the lurch.

Yoshinori Tanokura’s set design is austere but elegantly functional

and contributes to the fun. (The half-dead potted tree set downstage

of Victor’s desk is a nice touch.) Patricia E. Doherty’s costume designs

are equally successful, conveying subtle shifts in character development

and the passage of time with a quick change in tie color.

"Big Boys" is unpretentious, light-hearted, and very audience-friendly.

I initially expected it to be a humorous variation of David Mamet’s

"Glengarry Glen Ross," but it is much funnier than that. The

humiliations that Norm suffers in Rich Orloff’s script are too broad

to invite the audience into extensive bouts of empathy. There are

frequent, funny, references to sexuality that some may find a tad

offensive.

So even if you haven’t been following the latest bit of corporate

corruption, "Big Boys" is an enjoyable, light-hearted experience.

John H. Patterson, business tycoon and founder of the National Cash

Register Corporation, once said, "To succeed in business it is

necessary to make others see things as you see them." The same

could be said for live theater, and "Big Boys" fills that

bill.

— Jack Florek

Big Boys, Playwrights Theater, 33 Green Village

Road, Madison, 973-514-1787. Opening night for a new screwball comedy

about business, manhood, and success, by Rich Orloff, directed by

John Pietrowski. To January 26. $25 & $27.50. Friday, January 10,

8 p.m.


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