Power Burn 3
nytheatre.com review by Matthew Trumbull
December 15, 2009
The cutthroat office world of Fit and Fabulous, Inc., a female-dominated fitness DVD distributor, is a touchy one. Employee names make the usual morning greetings an intimidating gauntlet—Willa Steele, Helen Heels, Gayle Force, etc. In such tense surroundings, even pouring the last of the coffee without making a fresh pot might earn a jab to the gut; imagine the moves busted out over a promotion. Power Burn 3, part of the Brick Theater's Fight Fest, follows our heroine—shy, dowdy Willa Steele (Angela Sharp)—as she quests for the higher position she merits and deserves over her rival, corporate vixen Helen Heels (Megan Stern).
Each of these ladies has bruising staffers in her corner, and the two office gangs waste no time coming to blows in conference rooms, parking lots, industry gatherings, and corporate retreats. As the name of the festival dictates, this is a fight story—plot and dialogue are bolted into a familiar pattern that will deliver violent results early and often, with context existing mostly as a formality. On this most important level, the show delivers.
Fight director Carrie Brewer has staged brawls that are sharp and exciting, and this limber ensemble executes them with joyful skill, particularly Angela Sharp. Her Willa Steele has achieved the black belt of small screen fitness prowess—she has personally mastered the first and second installments of her own company's best-selling "Power Burn" series, and now trains diligently to "Power Burn 3," even deriving mystical guidance from PB3's guru team, Tee and Teigh (played on a projection screen by the show's playwriting team, Alana McNair and Kate Wilkinson). She is reluctant to resort to violence, but when left with no choice, her inner Bruce Lee is released, and opponents go down. Sharp sells this winningly; it's fun and easy to root for her. She has charming, quirky, everywoman appeal, and comic skill playing awkward confusion.
Other cast members deliver especially funny and brash performances; Megan Stern relishes the "bad girl" role, Helen Heels, and Willa Steele's assistant and stalwart ally, Sherri Bomb, is given great swagger by Rocio Mendez. The only male onstage is the least capable character in a fight, but Adam Lerman's Guy provides a nice mutual crush for Willa's character and very likeable comic relief as the office's temp.
While the speed of the fights is impressive, director Stephen Brackett still has work to do to rev up the show's pace in other areas. Much air can be taken out of the dialogue scenes; the show could be at least ten minutes tighter. It is unfortunate that little can be done about the pace of the video and voiceover components of the show; both drag. Also not doing the actors any favors are a number of unnecessary writing choices. Helen Heels's goons feel like they are in the wrong play—Gayle Force (Amanda O'Callaghan) talks like a femme fatale from a '40s gumshoe flick, and most of her lines fall flat; Elle Ectric (Jenna Crawford) is the ditzy blonde, and delivers an odd monologue directly to the us in the middle of the play; no other character does this. There is a weak subplot about an impending women's fitness industry conference that exists only to provide a new setting for a fight, and the show's shift of the main conflict away from Willa vs. Helen feels quite abrupt.
Overall, however, the world of the show provides many funny moments. Offices are often cold, bloodless environments; it is surprising and hilarious to watch one in which throwdowns happen as often as in any testosterone-soaked biker bar. My favorite line is a jewel of the play's skillful self-awareness; it comes from a penitent Helen Heels, who has failed on a crucial office task. "Maybe if I would have focused a bit more on work instead of fighting everyone, I would have figured out a way to get these new videos made faster."