Review: Assistance at Playwrights Horizons


Do you ever have flashbacks of particular experiences that weren’t particularly pleasant but supposedly paved your future and helped you become who you are?  I did when I saw the film Swimming with Sharks with Kevin Spacey, for example.

Who hasn’t had vivid dreams of tying up their boss after one snide remark too many? Like everyone else, once upon a time, I was an assistant to someone in a high power position. While I respected my boss, I was subjected, sometimes inadvertently, to countless humiliations daily. Looking back, I realize I did learn a lot about the business:  I learned how to answer a phone on the first ring, I learned how to order lunch and I learned how to listen when told to do something.  But most of all, I learned how to treat the people I work with respect and dignity, whether I report to them up or down.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I heard about the show ASSISTANCE  playing at Playwright Horizons, about “a biting, high-octane satire about our attraction to power and what we’re willing to sacrifice to stay in its orbit.” Leslye Headland is a young, new playwright who clearly has experienced the same kind of torture her characters have while working for a powerful uber0-magnate.  She recently made headlines at the Sundance Film Festival.

In the play, Nick and Nora are two assistants working in the same office.  Nick, played by Michael Esper of American Idiot, has been working for the same guy for years and compares it to being in the movie Good Fellas. “Everything that could go wrong, goes wrong,” he tells Nora, played by Virginia Cull, who earnestly starts working alongside him for the same man (who we never see, but we hear his insults all through the play).  Their boss corrects their grammar, calls them stupid, tells them to learn how to read.  Nora quickly learns that despite her college education, despite her eagerness to move ahead, she will forever be ordering flowers, walking dogs, scanning pages and maxing out her own credit cards to work as an assistant.  Worst of all, she realizes that her own colleagues don’t want to help her get ahead: “I’m never gonna get out of here if someone learns the death march.”  She hates her job but has nowhere to go. Meanwhile, she watches as one colleague, played by Sue Jean Kim, comes and goes, and as her replacement, played by Amy Rosoff, starts out kissing up to everyone happily and ends up falling apart like all the others.  Justin, an assistant, who’s foot gets rolled over by a moving automobile due to his boss’ neglect, gives a truly funny performance as he breaks up with his therapist, no longer able to pay the bill.  It truly took me back in time.

The cast, all young and vibrant actors, really keep keep the play moving with their IRL chemistry. The trendy set and music well together and goes along with the theme of chaos that slowly unravels the characters and their environment as the play comes to a close. The ending could not be more perfect, but you have to see it to find out what I’m talking about.  All I can say is that my companion and I were cracking up and nearly in tears.

Playtime is an organization created by Playwrights Horizons that allows parents to see theater. Children are engaged in artistic activities while their parents have a cultural theatrical experience.  I didn’t need the Playtime! child care option offered at Playwrights Horizons for kids aged 4-12 this time, but it’s great to know that it’s an option if you want to see ASSISTANCE or any of the other shows playing at Playwrights or the Signature Theatre.

And more good news!  If you order your tickets by February 21st and use code PlayAsstBlog, tickets are just $40 (reg. $70) for performances 2.3-2.19; $50 (reg. $70) for performances 2/22-3/11.  Just order online or call 212-279-4200.  After you book your tickets, you can book Playtime.

Please join MamaDrama and Playtime! to talk about the play, about being an assistant in real life and win tickets and other great prizes at the MamaDrama Twitter Party using hashtag #ASSISTANCE on Tuesday February 21st at 9pm EST. RSVP at

Disclosure: Performance tickets and child care option were provided courtesy of PLAYTIME!  and MamaDrama  for the purpose of  this review.   I am a co-founder of MamaDrama, however the views and opinions expressed here are strictly my own.

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