In the aftermath of the Harvery Weinstein scandal, #MeToo, and everything that’s going on in the world, a play about gender issues seems more relevant than ever. Theresa Rebeck’s What We’re Up Against at the WP Theater is that play for me, and as soon as it started, I knew I was in for something timely and relevant to what we are experiencing today. It’s not about sexual assault, but rather office politics, gender imbalance, and equality, all which are issues that pertain to what we are hearing about today.
In my first TV job, I worked for two men. I have to say two fabulous men. We didn’t really have any gender imbalance issues. They were great mentors and really wanted me to thrive in the workplace. This was in the mid 90’s, when women were really rising to new heights in the workplace. When I decided to move over to work for two successful women, the two men were very sad to see me go. Little did I know but I was setting myself up in a trap. There was so much inequity working for those two women, and it was a completely different experience. I was ambitious, but they never wanted to see me thrive. One had repulsive cursing habits, which was unbearable to be around, and the other one was worried about her kids all day and had to rush home at exactly 5pm everyday. I would do work that I was not given credit for and treated unfairly. Ultimately, I was blamed for their inadequacies and not given a chance to explain myself. I was witness to a lot of gender dynamics at work by women versus women, only at the time, I had no idea what was going on.
These memories came rushing back yesterday, while watching Theresa Rebeck’s What We’re Up Against, a play that takes place in 1992, now playing for a 4-week engagement that officially opens on November. The play stars Skylar Astin, Jim Parrack, Krysta Rodriguez, Marg Helgenberger, and Damian Young, all seasoned theater, TV, and film actors who bring a certain heated kind of performance to a slightly explosive storyline.
Rodriguez plays Eliza, a new hire in an architecture firm. She’s tired of being held down by her superiors, who upon hiring her, shove her into a corner office the size of shoebox and don’t put her on projects. Young plays her boss, Stu, who calls her “bitch” behind her back and demoralizes her in in meetings. Astin, plays her arch rival, who continuously tries to knock her off projects, and while not as smart as she is, constantly gets assignments. Parrack plays, Ben, who agrees with whomever he needs to in order to get ahead (yet he ultimately ends up being the “good guy”). Then there’s the other sole woman in the office played by Helgenberger, who seemingly is Eliza’s friend and cohort in crime at first, but as the play goes on, she becomes worse than any of the men in the office, doing what it takes to get ahead. In this case, that means taking ideas from Eliza and making them her own.
The play really delves into office politics in a smart, refreshing way. It’s honest, real, and its dialogue cuts right through the heart of a problem that persists in nearly every workplace. The combination of direction, acting, the set, the 1990’s haircuts and costumes, the music that plays between scenes – it all works for me and took me back in time – and creates a quiet explosion in the end. Not quite the one I expected, but a realistic kind of ending that would definitely happen in real life in an office setting.
Believe me, I know.
Disclosure: I was given complimentary tickets to this show to facilitate an interview I am doing for another publication but all opinions are my own.