San Francisco Theater Review: IDEATION (San Francisco Playhouse at the Kensington Park Hotel)

by Jim Allen on October 6, 2014

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

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THE GREATER GOOD

When is “enough” enough? Where do you draw the line? How far would you be willing to go for the “Greater Good”? These are some of the difficult questions posed by playwright Aaron Loeb’s darkly hilarious and deeply disturbing satire, Ideation, which opened San Francisco Playhouse’s 12th season.  Originally developed and produced by SF Playhouse as part of its Sandbox Series nearly a year ago, it’s back in a polished, slightly tweaked version.

The play begins innocently enough with a team of high-priced consultants of varying degrees of arrogance and ability. They are coming together in a chic corporate boardroom to combine their talents and expertise in service of an increasingly disturbing and morally suspect top-secret “humanitarian” enterprise.

Brock (Mark Anderson Phillips) and Ted (Michael Ray Wisely) air out their differences in SF Playhouse's IDEATION. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

As seemingly “left-brain” a group as you’d ever chance to meet, each consultant is there to fulfill a separate and compartmentalized element of the project.  Yet after a seemingly innocent event occurs, certain team members begin to put what they think is two-and-two together; paranoia sets in and soon it’s every man for himself.  These overqualified corporate geniuses are suddenly up-to-their-eyeballs in something that may well consume them, body and soul. Some of the characters’ early behavior and dialogue brought to mind the post-WW II testimony of low-level Nazi functionaries: “I was just doing my job.” Indeed.

Hannah (Carrie Paff) and Scooter (Ben Euphrat) size each other up in SF Playhouse's IDEATION. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

As the play begins, Carrie Paff ‘s Hannah is the very picture of a chic, chilly, pulled-together, blonde-shiksa-goddess corporate archetype, an image which contrasts nicely with the frightened little girl she becomes when the proverbial shit hits the fan.  As her intern Scooter, young Ben Euphrat embodies the hubris of youth.

Sandeep (Jason Kapoor) and Brock (Mark Anderson Phillips) try to solve the problem in SF Playhouse's IDEATION. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

The solid and authentic Jason Kapoor plays the project engineer, Sandeep, creating a sympathetic relationship with Paff. Bay Area favorite Michael Ray Wisely nails every moment as Ted, who initially seems to be the most grounded and “sensible” person in the room, possessing an almost reticent quality. That is until escalating paranoia reveals the true Ted and lands him in a hilarious altercation with the excellent Mark Anderson Philips’ Brock.

The consulting team, comprised of Brock (Mark Anderson Phillips ), Sandeep (Jason Kapoor) and Ted (Michael Ray Wisely), returns from the road in SF Playhouse's IDEATION. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

Perhaps it was directorial, but at certain points during first half of the 90-minute one act, Phillips’ wild gesticulations and over-the-top “playing” of certain moments felt ungrounded and oddly out-of-sync with his fellow actors. Interestingly, as the story developed, and the situation became seriously, and equally, funny and scary, Phillips connected with the rest of the ensemble and his work was terrific.

The team (Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips, Michael Ray Wisely, Ben Euphrat) holds a video meeting with their boss in SF Playhouse's IDEATION. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

Aaron Loeb’s clever and insightful play, sharply directed by Josh Costello on Bill English’s expressively bare set, is an on-the-nose send-up of today’s corporate culture. In Ideation, that all too pervasive culture, with its ethics of “take no prisoners” and “the end justifies the means,” creates a cocktail of laugh-out-loud hilarity, chased with the queasy realization that the more things in our glittering, vicious world change, the more they stay the same.

photos by Jessica Palopoli

Ideation
San Francisco Playhouse
Kensington Park Hotel at 450 Post Street
Tues – Thurs at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2
scheduled to end on November 8, 2014
for tickets, call (415) 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org

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