Compass Theatre Presents WHAT WE ARE UP AGAINST Review – Sexism Soufflé

As the lights come on we hear a sloshy Stu (Charlie Strater) hold forth on how his life has become unbearable because of her. Like many downing whisky at this fast clip, he feels misunderstood by his audience, in this case Ben (Ted James), an earnest underling in the architectural firm Stu manages. Strater’s Stu is so convincing that we feel a vicarious blood-alcohol rise.

Compass Theatre WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST
(LEFT TO RIGHT) Ted James as Ben, Charlie Strater as Stu
Compass Theatre WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST
(LEFT TO RIGHT) Echaka Agba as Eliza and Denice Hoerflich as Janice
Compass Theatre WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST
(LEFT TO RIGHT) Denise Hoeflich as Janice and Achaka Agba as Eliza

Though it’s not referenced in this amuse bouche monologue of this sexism soufflé of a script by playwright Theresa Rebeck, it’s immediately recognizable to those of us alive and sentient at the time that the Anita Hill hearings are still in the zeitgeist. We’re in an all male bastion, where brown nosing begins and ends with mastering the rules of a patriarchal system.   Play to Stu’s supersized and fragile ego by telling him he’s your father figure, as blowhard golden boy Webber (Jeff Kurysz) later does, and you’ll secure the most plum assignments and likely financial reward too.   You’ll do fine, as long as you don’t make the mistake of being clearly superior to everyone else and fatally female.

The she-devil bane of Stu’s existence, Eliza (Echaka Agba), is a new hire whom Stu has relegated to a broom closet of an office. Unlike her long-suffering female co-worker Janice (Denise Hoeflich) ,who had long ago mastered go-along-to-get-along submissive stance, Eliza has the fatal flaw of knowing she truly is the superior talent in the room.

In 90 minutes that seem to just fly by, we watch Eliza’s dish. Because you know it’s going there pretty much from the gitgo, it’s not really a spoiler to report that part of the satisfaction of this production is that the good guys- or rather gal- wins in the end. In fact, it’s a happy rout.

Compass Theatre Musters Equity Level Talents

In this writer’s view, lesser hands managing this tie-it-up-with-a-bow type script could easily fumble. Director Lauren Shouse seems to know she has top tier talent to work with--- the casting choices—all-- seeming to be the first master stroke. Agba fans will not be disappointed. She creates her character so completely that by the end of her first scene we feel like we’ve known her for ages. How perfect that Shouse positions Agba in the shadows during many scene changes as an observer – where her high heeled boot physical presence alone dominates and tells us this is herstory unfolding. Similarly, Kurysz creates his suck-up Webber character so convincingly that we know even he knows he’s full of it.

This sexism soufflé is truly a satisfying meal, especially in these #MeToo, Me2Million times...

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

Compass Theatre WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST
(LEFT TO RIGHT) Jeff Kurysz as Webber and Charlie Strater as Ben

Playwright:  Theresa Rebeck
Director:  Lauren Shouse
Cast:  Charlie Strater, Ted James, Echaka Agba, Denise Hoeflich, Jeff Kurysz
Scenic Design: Lauren Nigri
Costume Design: Izumi Inaba
Lighting Design:  Becca Jeffords
Sound Design:  Kevin O'Donnell
Props and Production Manager: Manuel Ortiz

When:

January 17, 2019 to February 9, 2019

Where:

Raven Theatre

6157 North Clark

Chicago

Compass Theatre WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST
(LEFT TO RIGHT) Jeff Kurysz as Webber and Echaka Agba as Eliza

Photos courtesy of Compass Theatre

 
Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

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