Rob Ackerman's provocative workplace play, Tabletop, a summer hit for The Working Theatre, ends its extended Off-Broadway run Aug. 13, but there is talk that the critically lauded limited staging will blossom into a commercial run.
A rave from John Simon in New York magazine helped create a sold-out final week at the Dance Theatre Workshop space on 19th Street. Commercial producers are attached to the production and money is being raised, but no further details were available at press time.
The nonprofit troupe devoted to telling stories about and for "working people" offers a staging, directed by Connie Grappo, that puts its actors in an environmental setting, a studio where "tabletop" commercials are filmed. The back wall of the DTW's Bessie Schönberg Theatre is exposed to show the machinery of the urban studio where beverage and food commercials are shot ("tabletop" is an industry term for the business of the close-up shooting of such products for ads). In this space, co-workers clash over personal and professional issues as they create and film an ad for a frosty fruit drink.
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. This engagement must 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. *
Turning 180 degrees from Chekhov, who saw his plays as comedies misinterpreted by audiences as tragedies, 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 (Belmont Avenue Social Club, Spread Eagle) directs the 15th season presentation for The Working Theatre. The cast includes Rob Bartlett (author and star of last season's More to Love and best known for his sidekick work on radio's "Imus in the Morning"), Harvy Blanks, Jack Koenig, Dean Nolen, Elizabeth Rice and Jeremy Webb.
The Schönberg Theatre is at 219 W. 19th St. For Working Theatre information, call (212) 691-6500.
-- By Kenneth Jones
and Ernio Hernandez