Brock (Mark Anderson Phillips), Ted (Michael Ray Wisely), and Sandeep (Jason Kapoor) have just returned victorious from client meetings in Crete that will garner the international corporation for whom they work a great deal of leverage and financial return. They’re high on success and likely jet-lagged. Immediate boss, Hannah (Carrie Paff), and an egotistical Generation Y intern named Scooter (Ben Euphrat) meet the three in a boardroom. (Scooter is quickly dispensed with despite family connections and frankly unnecessary to the piece.)
Michael Ray Wisely, Jason Kapoor, Mark Anderson Phillips, Ben Euphrat
The team was called back for top secret “Project Senna,” which they began drafting on the flight home. CEO J.D., whom we hear on Skype but never see, expects preliminary concepts in a matter of hours. The pivotal white board reads: ID to Collection to Containment to Liquidation to Disposal. (“to” signifies arrows) Three rules are also listed: No PPT- Power Point, for security. 2. Assume the worst when designing 3. No use of the “N” word. What?
Deciding to work backwards, Ted begins by addressing Disposal, the disposal of 1-2 million bodies. Ideas like cremation, mass graves and burial at sea are proffered, all in an objective, pragmatic, meticulously detailed, business-like fashion. They even make jokes. “Laugh about it, cry about it, the job’s the job,” comments one shrugging.
Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips, Michael Ray Wisely
Gradually, the group realizes the magnitude and horror of what they’ve been asked to do. “What if they ever have to use the design?” Hannah says warily. “It’s for ‘the infected,’” the answer comes back, referring apparently to the plausible results of biological warfare. “We’re preventing the extinction of mankind.”
Paranoia seeps in. Who knows what? Are there multiple teams? Will people be eradicated after doing their jobs? Is the pressure on because this is not a hypothetical situation? Chart after chart appears on the board. (These add terrifically.) “Country, profit, God, in whose name would such a plan be used?”
Jason Kapoor, Carrie Paff
It seems that the married Hannah and Sandeep have begun an affair. Everything one says affects the other more deeply. Their colleagues know but are discreet. (Paff and Kapoor play this beautifully without being overt.) Briefly left alone, the couple necks passionately (and credibly.)
“Why do you believe we’re building this for the American government?…It’s the most remarkable thing about Americans, you’re so trusting. Someone needs to tell,” Sandeep says when the others return.
Hannah’s knee jerk reaction is to threaten her lover with deportation. He apologizes to the group but insists on taking a walk to clear his head…then disappears. Everyone is alarmed, none more so than Hannah.
Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips
It’s a snowball downhill from here. Conspiracy theories directed towards fellows seen and unseen ricochet from person to person. Things get heated, then violent. Writing is tight and effective. Nothing happens on the stage that feels unrealistic. Every character maintains his own persona. Brock is overwrought, yet his presumptions are not irrational. Single, he suggests he has the least to lose. Ted, a good old boy with brains, mostly trusts the company, but is provoked. Hannah is torn, vulnerable. She’s struggled to get where she is, but can she accept the assignment? Her mind keeps snapping back to Sandeep. Ted and Hannah have families. How would you react? What would you do?
Carrie Paff, Michael Ray Wisely, Mark Anderson Phillips
Acting is excellent across the board. Every consideration and outburst comes from somewhere. Progression of suspicion is almost logical. This is a superbly cast production of actors who work with one another like a humming machine. Focus is riveting. (If Michel Ray Wisley’s southern accent is manufactured, it’s pristine.)
Director Josh Costello gives his players just enough gesture and movement in the confined boardroom to be character expressive. Heat- both sexual and hostile, feels real. Perhaps the highest achievement here, however, is the production’s skilled timing without which we wouldn’t be bound.
Aaron Loeb has concocted a psychologically adept scenario, relevant both as metaphor and conceivable eventuality. Characters are well drawn; backgrounds add to the intriguing mix. One shudders. My only caveat is the ending which, I think, calls for more commitment.
Bill English’s antiseptic set suits the story.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips, Jason Kapoor, Ben Euphrat, Michael Ray Wisely
Ideation by Adam Loeb
Directed by Josh Costello
Produced by San Francisco Playhouse
59 East 59th Street
Through April 17, 2016