As the audience files into the Falcon Theater for their performance of The Grӧnholm Method, the sleek, stark and sterile meeting room of Fortune 500 company Burnham + Burnham is in full view, courtesy of Brian Webb’s beautifully realized set design. You’re not sure why, but its crisp corporate cleanliness—complete with designer water bottles, sparkling crystal glasses, and spotless tabletops—is unsettling; you get an uneasy feeling that the perfectly pristine presentation belies what is about to unfold.
In a time when the corporate world has become only about the bottom line, the dehumanization of the work force is rampant. Employees are seen as completely disposable possessions. They are expected to give their all and when the last ounce of usefulness is sucked out of them, they are discarded like so much chattel. Courts have routinely sided with big business in matters of privacy and access to personal information (email, facebook passwords, credit reports), and workers have been subjected to search and seizure of all their most intimate affairs. They are reduced to mere puppets whose strings are pulled by the board room; indentured servitude with a pay check; salaried slavery.
All of those new world order attitudes are on vivid display in The Grӧnholm Method. Written by Spanish/Catalan playwright Jordi Galcerán Ferrer with translation by Anne Garcia-Romero and Mark St. Germain, the insightful script throws us head first into the nightmare of a Human Resources department run amok. Nothing, it seems, is off-limits in the search for the perfect candidate. Ferrer has a keen ear for corporate mumbo-jumbo and he creates real moments of tension, apprehension, and fear. At times he drifts off into territory more suited to the repartee of God of Carnage, but those are usually only brief diversions and he quickly rights his course.
A quartet of characters enter the antiseptic environs and soon discover that they are the four finalists all vying for the same coveted high-level position. As they have already gone through a thorough vetting process with multiple interviews, they do not know quite what to make of this final group call-back when a drawer magically opens with a whoosh, emanating a mysterious glow. The envelope contained within explains their fate. The foursome will be put through a series of tests, challenges and exercises (the Grӧnholm Method) designed to weed out the weak. If any of them refuses to complete a task or decides to leave the room they will be immediately disqualified from consideration. Let the games begin! What unfolds over the next 90 intermission-free minutes will push the mettle of all concerned to the breaking point. It would be unfair to site specifics for fear of exposing the many unexpected twists and turns which will transpire, but suffice it to say that degradation, humiliation, and psychological manipulations are all on the menu.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Under the guidance of director B T McNicholl, they have crafted believable and fully realized characters. As Melanie, the sole female of the group, legendary musical theater diva Lesli Margherita exhibits all the requisite toughness of a woman in a man’s world. Stuffed into her uptight business suit, she perfectly embodies the Type “A” my-balls-are-bigger-than-yours persona. It’s great to see her get the chance to strut her stuff sans orchestral accompaniment. Graham Hamilton plays Carl—the corporate frat boy with Aryan good looks, a killer smile, and an underlying killer instinct—with great zeal. Both Ms. Margherita and Mr. Hamilton have moments that at first viewing seem a bit disingenuous, but as secrets are revealed you understand their actions. The always excellent, multi-Tony-winning Stephen Spinella portrays the middle-aged family man Rick—a fidgety, quirky, talkative, and more-than-a-bit cloying dinosaur—with just the right level of desperation. He’s a revelation to watch. Rounding out the cast as Frank, the dapper, slick sleaze-ball with a cynical edge, is Jonathan Cake (Bree’s jilted Detective lover on Desperate Housewives). He nails the performance from start to finish. His delivery of his many monologues, which go on for pages at a time, are enthralling to witness.
For the performances alone The Grӧnholm Method is worth seeing. Whether or not you find the subject worth your time is another matter entirely. As was the case with Mamet’s real estate drama Glengarry Glen Ross, knowledge of a particular business isn’t necessary to appreciate the show’s artistry; in this instance, being a corporate climber couldn’t hurt.
photos by Chelsea Sutton
The Grӧnholm Method
Presented by Baby Tiger Productions, Daniel Wallace and Trish Whitehurst in association with Falcon Theatre in Burbank (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to end on September 30, 2012
for tickets, call (818) 955-8101 or visit http://www.FalconTheatre.com