Tabletop, Hit Workplace Drama, Expected to Find Future at American Place

News   Tabletop, Hit Workplace Drama, Expected to Find Future at American Place Rob Ackerman's provocative workplace play, Tabletop, a summer hit for The Working Theatre in Manhattan, is expected to begin a 12-week commercial run in October at American Place Theatre, according to sources connected to the production.

Rob Ackerman's provocative workplace play, Tabletop, a summer hit for The Working Theatre in Manhattan, is expected to begin a 12-week commercial run in October at American Place Theatre, according to sources connected to the production.

The 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.

Ellen M. Krass (The Kathy and Mo Show: Parallel Lives) is said to be the lead producer on the revived Working Theatre production. The cast has been on notice that the play may make a comeback. No official announcement has been made.

A rave from Simon in New York magazine helped create a sold out final week at the Dance Theatre Workshop space on 19th Street.

* The Working Theatre, the nonprofit troupe devoted to telling stories about and for "working people" offered the staging, directed by Connie Grappo. The summer production put the actors in an environmental setting, a studio where "tabletop" commercials are filmed. 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 ("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. 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.

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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) directed the 15th-season presentation for The Working Theatre. The cast included 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.

-- By Kenneth Jones