Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
Pictured: Japhet Balaban, Kaiser Ahmed, Henry Greenberg, Rachel Sullivan, Michael Kingston. Photo by Joel Maisonet.
By Bec Willet
What if a virus threatened the human species? What if a small group of highly regarded management consultants were tasked with secretly being its saviors by disposing of bodies? What if these consultants are too good? So good that they realize that this may not, in fact, be reality, but rather a test, or something else altogether?
Jackalope’s production of Aaron Loeb’s IDEATION is a play of ethical questions in corporate culture. The takeaway is that nothing is real and no one is truly trustworthy. It’s a terrifying statement which has recently started to feel more than plausible.
As expected for a real-time, dialogue-heavy play in the limited space of a conference room, much of the direction was spent molding and detailing the characters and their relationships. This paid off, and the believability of the performances from this ensemble of actors are primarily what keep the audience engaged in this production. The most nuanced of them, Kaiser Ahmed’s Sandeep provides the heart and conscious of the play and Henry Greenberg’s Scooter who provides a grounded yet refreshing comic relief.
The design is straightforward, yet striking – a conference room in cool tones complete with fake plant, whiteboard, and heavy duty carpet serves as a prison of corporate expectation. Slick Jorgenson’s lighting provides just enough unease that it does not undermine the validity of the setting but subtly alludes to the demise in clear thinking as the play progresses. However, while these design elements work together, at times they conflict with some of the directorial choices.
As an audience we are positioned in a fly-on-the-wall perspective, the actors blocked in such a way that the audience acts as an onlooker. While such a choice can create an immediacy, in this case the set placed us much farther away than a fourth wall would be located. The audience response and connection with the characters is further stunted by the blocking, where actors’ backs are towards us in important emotional moments. While this onlooker perspective is an interesting idea, a greater ebb and flow in emotional connection followed by alienation would serve to move this production beyond intellectualism.
The writing is smart, but I suspect that, regardless of the production, its latter half has the pitfall of falling into heady conceptualization rather than moving action. Whichever way, Jackalope has delivered a solid production that features a strong ensemble of actors.
IDEATION runs through June 17th. For more information visit http://www.jackalopetheatre.org/