[originally published: http://aislesay.com/CHI-WATERCOOLERS.html]


by Thomas Michael Allen, Sally Allen, Joe Allen,
Marya Grandy, and E. Andrew Sensenig
Directed by Kurt Johns
Lakeshore Theater
3175 N. Broadway / (773) 472-3492
Open run

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
August 27, 2006

In the Off Broadway (and cross country) ensemble songfest The Water Coolers five corporate types sing of their familiar work struggles with amazing style, grace, and humor. Lakeshore Theater expands with this production its prior exclusive role as host to visiting productions. This is “The Capitol Steps” meets “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and the laughs are frequent and earned. If this is any indication of the quality of theatre events to come from Chris Ritter, I eager await the next installments.

As in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” we are not provided specifics of the company business where our play’s action occurs, and this is as it should be. Details would confuse the issues at the core of this piece: staff rivalries, corporate types, personal struggles to incorporate family life into work life (or not doing that very well) – in short, the plight of the corporate man and corporate woman, set to song. The dramatic arc of the musical book involves our team preparing for a big presentation. Along the way, our stalwart cast of five provides the range of possibilities for dialogue (spare) and tuneful exposition and emoting (plentiful). Matthew Amador is an adorable and surprisingly self-effacing Steve (the office “hottie”), inspiring comparisons to David Schwimmer. Adam Kozlowski simpers and weasels his way out of work beautifully as Frank, the office work avoid-er. The understudy Ed Rutherford in the performance I viewed masterfully performed Glen, the I.T. cowboy and techno geek, who offends all and befriends few. Holly Stauder evokes Nora Dunn and Irene Dunne and a wee dram of Rosalind Russell in her lovely performance as the team leader of this herd of corporate cats. The ensemble is nicely rounded out by Tempe Thomas as Brooke, the cute and smart associate who struggles to be taken seriously.

The play list is composed of newly composed lyrics to familiar pop tunes (e.g. “In My Cube” to “In My Room,” and “Unless It’s From Me” to the tune of “I’ve Gotta Be Me”) and a few original numbers. Showstoppers in my mind included “Oratorio,” a group number set to the Hallelujah Chorus; “One Rung Higher,” the working woman’s scream of multi-tasking frustration; and “A Love Song” with the men adoring their Personal Digital Assistants.

The simple set by Robert Kovach is solid and serviceable and flexible. Lighting and sound design by Tim Schoen works in the small space but generates a generic comment. The actors were each mic-ed in this production in the relatively small space at the Lakeshore. Was this necessary? My ongoing struggle with the distancing effect of mic-ing musical events was evoked a bit during this production. At one moment a lovely young woman is standing right in front of me but the sound of her and the piano just behind her is coming from .. above me? Somewhere to my left and behind me? IN this smallish space I ask: why? As an audience member I want to experience the music with the performers rather than have it imposed on me. I acknowledge this as a generic comment, and the sound is modulated well in this space. I simply yearn for the direct experience of the actor’s voice in these situations.

Jeremy Ramey‘s musical direction and piano playing throughout the piece was driving and charming and fun. Choreography by Linda Parsons is limited and perfectly suited to this able group of eager performers. In particular, the Ziegfeld Follies effects created with the men and their PDAs had me in stitches. Marvelous.

This production may be settling in for an extended run at the Lakeshore. When you drop by, be sure to greet Jessica behind the bar, and, if alcohol is appealing try their luscious concoction “the water cooler,” part alcohol and part inspiration, in honor of the play. You’ll have a fabulous time.

© Martha Wade Steketee (August 27, 2006)

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