nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 15, 2004
Inevitably, when things are going swimmingly at work, someone steps in with a better idea. Rarely is the new idea an improvement, and all too often it entails a hidden agenda. Project, by first-time playwright Jon Elston, demonstrates the disintegration of the team and the importance of personal integrity when he throws four men into a boardroom that might as well be a coliseum.
In Project, there is not one hidden agenda, but four, and they become increasingly evident as the play unfolds. Like the title, the characters have no names. “A” (Phil Knoerzer) heads up the successful project, and readily admits that his inspiration comes from a woman he recruited for the assignment. Although she never physically appears, she is present throughout. And, of course, she must be, because it is this woman whom the others have conspired to remove from the project for various reasons. Knoerzer conveys the trustworthiness of a valued employee, the type every company says it wants to nurture. “B,” played with wide range (particularly when he softly seethes) by Tim Newell, comes on strong as the general manager and as a misogynist. “D” (Todd Benzin) is the desperate wannabe of the team: too eager to serve coffee and clueless as to the real agenda. Finally, he speaks, but with an integrity that has long left the room. “C” (Brian Riggs), who has manipulated all of them into doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, mocks him. Benzin brings convincing tentativeness to his role. Riggs, who must convey both team player and threatening antagonist, goes for the jugular, but not always with the measured confidence of an experienced con.
Writing in the tradition of David Mamet, Elston sprays enough generic mist on Project to make it a case study in a management training course, but adds sufficient humanity to his characters to demand empathy from the audience. The dialog moves at a crisp clip. His cross-conversations and multiple exchanges bring urgency and believability to the situation. Unlike Mamet, Elston circles around once too often, repeating rather than pushing the plot forward when it is finally time to reveal what is going on. Scott Behrend brings insight to his direction, tapping subtleties in all four men. The characters begin as an integrated team working on a successful project. They end broken, having sacrificed personal integrity for what looks like personal gain. What the characters gain is a sad lesson in loss.