Rob Ackerman's provocative workplace play, Tabletop, was a summer hit for Off-Broadway's The Working Theatre and well-received again when it opened a commercial run Oct. 30 at the American Place Theatre. However, Tabletop, like so many other New York shows, is dreading the winter doldrums, the post-holiday period when tourists leave and locals stay home.
As such, producers have been advertising "Last Weeks," which functions as both a reminder of the show to interested theatregoers who haven't yet bought tickets, and a warning that if ticket sales don't increase, the production will cease. A Cromarty and Company spokesperson told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 15) that no official closing date has been chosen for Tabletop, which began previews Oct. 19. Two other Off-Broadway shows have already thrown in the towel this week: Tallulah Hallelujah! and Game Show, which will both shutter on New Year's Eve.
Rob Ackerman's drama, flecked with humane, harrowing and humorous behavior in a studio where food commercials are shot, ended its extended Off Broadway run Aug. 13, but there had been talk even then of a future for the critical and audience hit. Critic John Simon openly urged the producing community to give the play a larger life, and Playbill On-Line reported (Sept. 21) plans for a run at the American Place were already underway.
Producers are Ellen M. Krass (The Kathy and Mo Show: Parallel Lives), Amy Danis & Mark Johannes, Richard & Joan Firestone and Karen Davidov.
A rave from Simon in New York magazine helped create a sold out final week of the summer run at the Dance Theatre Workshop space on 19th Street. The cast will return for the fall venture. The company includes Rob Bartlett (author and star of last season's More to Love on Broadway and best known for his sidekick work on radio's "Imus in the Morning"), Harvy Blanks, Jack Koenig, Dean Nolen, Elizabeth Hanly Rice and Jeremy Webb. *
The Working Theatre, the nonprofit troupe devoted to telling stories about and for "working people" offered the staging, directed by Connie Grappo. The production puts the actors in an environmental, "real-time" setting, a studio where "tabletop" commercials are filmed. "Tabletop" is an industry term for the business of the close-up shooting of such products for ads. The latest commercial being shot is for a slushy drink called Fruit Freeze, and tensions mount when a visit from the client is anticipated.
In the summer staging, the back wall of the DTW's Bessie Schönberg Theatre was exposed to show the machinery of the urban studio where beverage and food commercials are shot. In this space, co workers clash over personal and professional issues as they create and film an ad for the frosty fruit drink. The American Place set will be slightly different from the summer run, due to the nature of the space.
Returning designers are Dean Taucher (set), Ilona Somogyi (costumes) and Jack Mehler (lighting).
Summer performances began July 8 (with an opening of July 11) and were to continue to Aug. 5, but solid reviews (including a New York Times anointment) and enthusiastic audiences kept the show going to Aug. 13. The engagement had to close due to the company's limited Equity mini- contract.
The piece ferociously — and humorously — addresses universal workplace issues and conflicts: The stifling of creativity, insidious bigotry, management vs. labor, work life vs. personal life, young ideas vs. established techniques, selling out and more.
Playwright Ackerman said in a statement, "this is a play about pain, but people always seem to find it funny." But the play has a universality, as the former tabletop technician Ackerman added: "If you ever had a bad boss, this show is cheap therapy." Ackerman's other works include the play-turned movie Origin of the Species.
Grappo's directorial credits include The Belmont Avenue Social Club and Spread Eagle and Andrea's Got Two Boyfriends at San Diego Rep.
Tickets are $47.50. American Place Theatre is at 111 W. 46th Street in Manhattan. For ticket information, call (212) 239 6200.
— By Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz