Tabletop Cleared Jan. 14, as Stamford Run Ends; Is L.A. Next?

News   Tabletop Cleared Jan. 14, as Stamford Run Ends; Is L.A. Next? Tabletop, the lauded fall 2000 Off-Broadway play about the tiny traumas and workplace conflicts at a studio where commercials are shot, ends its two-week engagement at the Rich Forum in Stamford, CT, Jan. 14.

Tabletop, the lauded fall 2000 Off-Broadway play about the tiny traumas and workplace conflicts at a studio where commercials are shot, ends its two-week engagement at the Rich Forum in Stamford, CT, Jan. 14.

The Rob Ackerman play, embraced by critics for its ensemble performances and the script's bubbling distillation of workplace issues, closed Dec. 31 at the American Place Theatre in Manhattan and moved to a Stamford first performance of Jan. 6. Facing the winter doldrums, that post-holiday period when tourists disappear and locals stay home, producers Ellen M. Krass (The Kathy and Mo Show: Parallel Lives), Amy Danis & Mark Johannes, Richard & Joan Firestone and Karen Davidov decided to close the show in Manhattan before January begins. Previews started Oct. 19, opening at American Place was Oct. 30.

There is talk that the show may again find a life in Manhattan, but official word in the days leading up to the Stamford run was that the production will end its life with the limited Connecticut engagement Jan. 14. Buzz has the production moving to a regional theatre in the coming months, perhaps to Los Angeles, but no official announcement has been made.

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The Working Theatre first staged the play Off-Broadway, at the Dance Theatre Workshop, in summer 2000 and it was a cult hit, earning a rave from notoriously salty critic John Simon. The summer cast returned for the fall commercial venture, and will repeat their duties in Stamford. The ensemble includes Rob Bartlett (author and star of 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. Tickets for the Stamford run range $35-$45. Rich Forum is at the Stamford Center for the Arts, 307 Atlantic Street. For information, call (203) 325-4466.

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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.

The Working Theatre, the nonprofit troupe devoted to telling stories about and for "working people," first presented 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).

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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.

To read the Playbill On-Line Brief Encounter interview with Tabletop star Rob Bartlett, click here.

— By Kenneth Jones