Steppenwolf Theatre THE FUNDAMENTALS Review –Is moving up worth it?

Riesco (Lorenzo) and Alan Wilder (Abe) and Alana Arenas (Millie) Michael Brosilow

The Fundamentals—Familiar Story

The Fundamentals asks the question: do you know the fundamentals of who you are as a person and would you betray those fundamentals to get out of the rut you’re living in?

Steppenwolf is known for taking mundane or everyday circumstances and making them extraordinary, or at least elevating them into situations you want to watch and invest your time in. In this case, Millie (ensemble member Alana Arenas) is a hotel housekeeper and recently acquired a new title-only promotion as a liaison to the front desk clerk. This title came after she unsuccessfully interviewed for a front desk position and the hotel manager, Eliza (Audrey Francis), decided it was best to keep her in housekeeping.

Armando Riesco (Lorenzo) and Alana Arenas (Millle) Michael Brosilow

However, Millie decides she still wants to climb the ranks and starts doing whatever it takes to get a managerial job. What follows is her betrayal of people - an unseen front of house hotel manager, her husband Lorenzo, and finally her closest friend and boss, Abe.
This play felt like it was on the brink of elevating normal circumstances, but fell short because the plot is one we’ve seen many times before. A nice person trying to get ahead in life, betrays the people close to her, gets the job she wants, but is now left with wondering, was it all worth it?

Excellent Set Design

As per Steppenwolf’s usual standard for excellence, the set is built by Collette Pollard and creates a very realistic hotel basement and is full of tiny details.

The elevator is a nice touch and adds a bit of fun for the characters to play around with, but also lets the characters beat a hasty retreat when tensions flair.

The play also utilizes different multi-media technologies by including workplace training videos throughout the play. At first you’re hesitant to laugh at these videos because they seem to be so serious. But then they remind you of every over the top training video you’ve ever had to sit through, and you start to laugh and roll your eyes at how ridiculous they are.

Overall the set and added design elements were done well and felt like you were stepping into this world of hotel staff.

Armando Riesco (Lorenzo) and Alana Arenas (Millie) Michael Brosilow

Authentic Relationships

Abe, played by ensemble member Alan Wilder, adds a nice touch of humor and feels like the most authentic character of the bunch. He is trying to help his friends and co-workers while staying in his comfortable job as manager of the day to day staff. That’s why it seems like he and Millie make a great team - always looking out for each other and the other staff working at the hotel.

Other relationships like Millie and Lorenzo’s (played by Armando Riesco) seem to be very authentic as well as they talk about their daughter and trying to support each other’s goals. It was these relationships along with other little moments that are being used to advance the plot that weren’t quite heightened or dramatic enough to spark enough interest to make one completely invested in the play.

Muddled Motives

The Fundamentals wasn’t satisfying because you weren’t sure of the characters’ motives toward the end of the play. Were they acting in their own interests? Out of spite? For tough love? There never seemed to be a moment where Millie had a chance for redemption and would have gone back to her kind ways. On the other hand, it never really seemed like Millie had changed for good and would actually do anything to get to the top. Either way, the last decision Millie made got her a promotion and finally moved up the corporate ladder. With her last scene surrounded by another training video, you’re left wondering if the job was even worth it.

It seems like The Fundamentals is for an audience who has been in the working world and can relate to Millie’s struggles by focusing on the trials and tribulations of moving up in the corporate world. It’s an invitation to reminiscence about the absurdity of training days, but also about if there were any moments in your career you might have compromised your morals for.

If anything, this play serves as a cautionary tale and makes you think about if betraying who you are and what you believe in for advancement is really worth it. While it’s not quite a play you’re going to be discussing for hours over drinks later, The Fundamentals isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon and so the play is somewhat recommended.


Now through December 31, 2016
Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30pm
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm
Wednesday 2pm matinees are December 7, 14 and 21.
There is no performance on November 24 and no Sunday 7:30pm performances on December 11 and 18.


Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre
1650 N Halsted St.


$20 - $89
Call 312-335-1650 or visit


Michael Brosilow

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