HOUSTON – Local director Carolyn Houston Boone, an associate professor at the University of Houston School of Theater, is busy helming Richard Dresser's 1995 business satire Below the Belt for Stages Repertory Theatre April 17 - May 10.
A lampoon of the business bureaucracy, Below the Belt follows three befuddled fact checkers assigned to an unnamed industrial outpost in a foreign wasteland. The underlings are Hanrahan, a gnarled contrarian, and young Dobbitt, the young new man on the job. The department head is the manipulative Merkin. "Any man can work," he philosophizes. "It takes an extraordinary man to check work." Isolated from co-workers and ambivalent about their absent spouses, the three form an ever-shifting triangle of alliances as they climb over each other up the corporate ladder. Until, that is, small, unknown creatures, byproducts of industrial waste the company spews, attack.
About the characters, Boone observes "These are very small people in a very small world doing very small tasks that they think are earth-shattering," Boone observed. "It's just like theater people thinking they're doing cancer research."
"All the men want," Boone concludes, "is power and to be respected. These are very human needs." Consequently, Boone intends to direct things naturalistically, even though the show has typically be done in an absurdist vein. If she went absurdist, she said, and skewered their situation, the play would be a one-joke piece. "An absurd production can be distancing and I like to involve audiences."
The cast is being guided to find the characters within the types. And Boone is reinforcing the fluidity of the plot, how it moves from scene to scene to scene "almost like a movie" so the action seems less a series of sketches and more an escalating flow of comic momentum and wry tension. The cast is all male. "I never even thought about that," Boone said. And excepting Boone, so too is everyone behind the Stages stage male. "I never thought about either. It never occurred to me." Wonder what the fact checkers would say to that.
Below the Belt runs April 17 - May 10 at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston. For tickets, $5 - $28, call (713) 52-STAGE
By Peter Szatmary