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A Battle of the Sexes Becomes a Melee in Theresa Rebeck’s What We’re Up Against at RLT

Brian Westbrook, Samantha Corey and Simon Kaplan perform in the upcoming Raleigh Little Theatre Production 'What We're Up Against.' Brenna Berry Photography

Brian Westbrook, Samantha Corey and Simon Kaplan perform in the upcoming Raleigh Little Theatre Production ‘What We’re Up Against.’ Brenna Berry Photography

RATING:   ✭✭✭✭   (out of 5)

Why do men in power still condescend, harass, ignore, interrupt, and sabotage women?

Why do women sometimes undermine each other?

It was 1992 when Emmy-nominated TV writer and playwright Theresa Rebeck asked these questions in the satirical workplace dramedy What We’re Up Against, presented by Raleigh Little Theatre at William Peace University’s Leggett Theatre through January 28.

Rebeck’s 90-minute battle of the sexes is not a boxing match–an organized battle between two equal fighters. Rather it is an allout 5-fighter melee without clear sides, winners, or losers. Axes are grinded, backs are stabbed, bullets are bitten, and fire is fought with fire.

Eliza (a vehement Samantha Corey) may be the narrative’s protagonist, but Rebeck smartly avoids the Go-In-There-And-Give-Him-What-For invincibility of the heroines from Nine to Five. The scenes between the play’s two women are its most complex and enlightening. Eliza’s contentious style contrasts with the obliging Janice (a dynamic Benji Taylor Jones), who idolizes insufferable office “golden boy” Weber (an ebullient Dan Cullen).

Simon Kaplan (Stu) appears in Raleigh Little Theatre's production of "What We're Up Against."

Simon Kaplan (Stu) appears in Raleigh Little Theatre‘s production of “What We’re Up Against.” Photo by Areon Mobasher.

Gifted director Heather J. Strickland exploits the unparalleled comedic skills of Brian Westbrook as the pragmatic foul-mouthed architect Ben, in hopes to justify the author’s insistence that this intense and appropriately infuriating play is a comedy. Most of the laughs come early and rise from a combination of recognition and discomfort at the outrageous misogyny of the firm’s mouthy, despicable boss, Stu (an impeccable Simon Kaplan).

The constant barrage of abuse heaped upon Eliza by her firm is somewhat condescending to an audience that is well aware of these problems. But the play’s lack of subtlety is an unexpected blessing. Nuance does not work on the ignorant. Desperate times call for desperate measures and our current socio-political climate demands that art be used to call deplorables onto the proverbial carpet. Even the most “woke” men among us need to shut up and listen and Rebeck is not going to let us out of the theatre without doing so for at least one evening.

Samantha Corey (Eliza) and Benji Taylor Jones (Janice) appear in Raleigh Little Theatre's production of "What We're Up Against."

Samantha Corey (Eliza) and Benji Taylor Jones (Janice) appear in Raleigh Little Theatre‘s production of “What We’re Up Against.” Photo by Areon Mobasher.

Elizabeth Newton’s blueprint-inspired floor markings provide helpful barriers between offices while Kaitlin Rider’s lighting, supported by associate lighting designer Gigi, is sometimes patchy, but isolates clearly the half-dozen or so locations.

Strickland’s scenic transitions are smooth, thanks to stage manager David Wilk–assisted by Elaine Petrone–and their team. Things slow down when too much furniture is struck between scenes, but this may be necessary given the tricky sightlines of Leggett Theatre’s side seating.

An impressive array of props by Ann Marie Crosmun includes a cavalcade of architectural blueprints, which the cast manipulate expertly, while Elspeth McClanahan’s early-90s costumes are accurate and not inflated. Areon Mobasher’s sound effects provide well-timed support for door-knocking miming, though the gimmick is sometimes distracting.

Though Rebeck’s play spins its wheels at times, Strickland, with assistant director Rachel Pottern Nunn, has filled the production with small details that give texture to the play’s very broad strokes.

This is a play–and a production–that merits attendance. Hopefully you have your ticket already, because the entire run is SOLD OUT! Note that the show is recommended for mature audiences.

NOTE: I am going to begin working with a 5-star rating system this year!

NOTE: The run of this production is SOLD OUT. Check the ticketing website or contact the box office to see if tickets become available.

Samantha Corey (Eliza) and Brian Westbrook (Ben) appear in Raleigh Little Theatre's production of "What We're Up Against."

Samantha Corey (Eliza) and Brian Westbrook (Ben) appear in Raleigh Little Theatre‘s production of “What We’re Up Against.” 

Raleigh Little Theatre presents WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST at 8:00 p.m. Jan. 12-13, 18-20, 25-27 and at 3:00 p.m. on Jan. 14, 21, and 28 in William Peace University’s Leggett Theatre, 15 E Peace St. Raleigh, NC 27604.

TICKETS: $25 (adults), $21 (students/seniors), and $15 (first Sunday). Seating is General Admission.

BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0Sd000000jMCjvEAG

SHOW: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/what-were-up-against/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/128719577807480/

RLT‘S 2017-18 SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/tickets/memberships.html.

PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatrehttps://twitter.com/RLT1936http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.

VENUE: https://www.peace.edu/about/william-peace-theatre-2/

OTHER LINKS:

Theresa Rebeck (author): http://theresarebeck.com/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theresa_Rebeckhttp://www.imdb.com/name/nm0714246/

Heather J. Strickland (director):   https://raleighlittletheatre.org/people/heather-j-strickland, http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/497625-heather-strickland

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor and director. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews