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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
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
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
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
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
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
— Jack Florek
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,
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