He often sees on the subway with a coffee thermos and lunch bag. He finds her thriftiness so sexy…
This is Hutch, one of the quirky characters brought to life by playwright Julia Blauvelt in this production by New Normal Rep.
On the surface, Hutch and his fellow characters might seem more alike than different. Each has a cubicle that looks pretty much the same. Their accounting jobs at a New York City hedge fund vary by levels of seniority but all involve the same kind of financial bean counting. What distinguishes the people inside each frame on screen – much less than their diversity in age, gender and race – are the attitudes towards what they do to earn their paychecks. These emerge gradually, first as playful banter between coworkers, and then as smoldering emotions and moral dilemmas.
Hutch, a motor mouth White guy, distributes bags of pretzels from the office kitchen as he gleefully explains that he owns shares in the pretzel company and boosts their profitability by eating as many as possible. Among his coworkers, he’s got the most vivid target for his own future: F.I.R.E. -- or “Financial Independence Retire Early.” By contrast, an Asian-American man named Jazz finds little to spark his passion, asking “Does anyone like it here?” If pressed, he’d like to buy himself a condo and pay for his nephew’s college tuition.
Perks as Holy Grail in F.I.R.E.
Besides free pretzels, the company perks also include Summer Drinks Night, free booze and food as soon as everyone finishes their daily tasks. Hutch of course can’t wait to begin. But therein lies the problem. Something isn’t right about the electronic ledgers that consume the staff. That includes Hutch, Jazz, an easygoing Black accountant named Noah, Penny, a blonde aspiring actress/temp who finds Noah very appealing, Chris, the family man who has been with the company for 25 years, and Shauna, their Black female supervisor.
They all work for Danica, a high-strung woman who conveys orders from above disguised as a pep talk. “You are the very best at what you do,” gushes Danica. “And we are going to find a way to make this perfect.” Danica does not specify exactly what needs to be made “perfect” until her underlings discover it for themselves. “This isn’t a bookkeeping error,” says Shauna, “it’s fraud.” Or, as Jazz puts it, “Cooking the Books 101.” Now the heat is on, Summer Drinks Night is off and the cool industrial cubicles are aflame with reactions to discrepancies that could mean jail time.
Mission Accomplished by New Normal Rep
In this viewer’s opinion, New Normal Rep succeeds in its mission to produce plays exclusively for online audiences. Julia Blauvelt’s script fits the mode well and director Heather Arnson lets the actors and the playwright do the work. Danica’s piercing ferocity, Chris’ middle age anguish and Penny’s surprised delight in grasping bookkeeping systems are all palpable.
Anyone who has spent time in corporate culture – plus those who appreciate digging beneath a deceptively simple surface – are likely to find F.I.R.E. a satisfying online choice.
Jeffrey Bean (Chris)
Kierra Bunch (Shauna)
Nathaniel P. Claridad (Jazz)
Ella Dershowitz (Penny)
Aaron Matteson (Hutch)
Nygel D. Robinson (Noah)
Carol Todd (Danica)
Julia Blauvelt (playwright)
Heather Arnson (director)
Adriana Gaviria (virtual technical director)
Hiatt Woods (editor)
Edward T. Morris (scenic & projections designer)
David C. Woolard (costume designer)
Lindsay Jones (original music and sound designer)
Luke H. Woods (production stage manager)
Images courtesy of DORA ELMER
About the Author: Susan Lieberman
Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning playwright, journalist, teacher and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her radio drama In the Shadows aired on BBC Radio 4 last season.