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|A CurtainUp Review
With its presentation of Winning, Rattlestick Productions responds to a need for plays about one of the key aspects of American society--the way businesses are run and the way they affect the life choices of those who work for them. A recent much heralded arrival on Broadway The Young Man From Atlanta takes us back to the beginnings of today's mean-and-lean corporations with their throw-away attitude towards the dedicated employee. In Winning, which, according to the program notes, is based on a real company in a real American town, we meet a younger man than Will Kidder of Atlanta, but a similar kind of go-getter who, having worked himself out of his blue-collar background to a top management position in a large paper company, feels that he's on top of the world of perks and golden parachutes. James Foster, (Sam Guncler), is like Kidder , brought down by tunnel vision which makes him blind to the dangerous office politics being played by wily old-timers Mike McCaskey (John Torney) and Robert Miller (William Severs). These golf-playing, money in mypocket guys may lack Jim's savvy and stamina for growing new business opportunities, but they know how to protect their turf.
While Atlanta is only a little about business, Winning is all about business. Talk about acquisitions, and costs and profit projections are so specific that at times you feel you actually work for Ramsey Paper. Its authenticity as a business play is unquestionable.
Not that there isn't a personal story. Since Ramsey seems to be the main game in town, it's not surprising that Debra (Maura Russo), the girl Jim Foster falls in love with has a connection to the company through her father and best girl friend, both of whom work in the lower ranks of this commercial fiefdom. Unfortunately the romance is more a device for the playwright to present the audience with a debate about meaningful work-- (teaching)-- and socially destructive work-- (manufacturing and distributing ecologically questionable products). This is fine when they first meet, giving us some nice bits of dialogue, like Jim's happy view of himself: "We are the new James Bonds--jetting across the country, having power." The "class conflict" also works quite nicely as a means for breaking down Debra's initial hostility to the Porsche-driving, corporate ladder climbing Jim. Despite solid performances by Guncles and Russo, however, the romance never frees itself from the debating device. Most importantly, both romance and plot are too predictable with the meatiest and least clichéd characterization going to Jim's work-buddy Janice Cutler, played with great wit and conviction by Jennifer Regan.
In the end Winning adds up to a good idea professionally executed, but suffering from a too pat and at times too slow-moving script. Van Santvoord's set design-- (Santvoord was also praised by my colleague Joan Eshkenazi in her recent review of Terra Incognita)-- serves as a major asset. It's a pleasure to see a small stage that effectively manages attractive and versatile scenery changes without a lot of maneuvering of furniture. I particularly liked the plastic pipe assemblages on the turning panels. Michael Whalen's original music contributed to the smooth flow from scene to scene.
Like all Rattlestick productions, Winning, was mentored by a prestigious playwright--in this case, Terrence McNally. Not having attended rehearsals, it's as hard to tell here as with the last production, Heart of Man, just what his contribution to these proceedings entailed. Perhaps next time the company puts one of these productions I'll ask to sit in on a rehearsal and report back to you on how this new playwright mentor relationship works.