Next Act’s “Big Boys,” a comedy of greed and power
Next Act Theatre’s production of Rich Orloff’s Big Boys opens with a melange of musical cues as the lights come up on a sleek, contemporary executive office. The playwright borrows the infamous 1980s “greed is good” credo, also the starting point of the 1987 film, Wall Street. Orloff’s comedy is, at best, Wall Street Light, but the reference tells us just where we are, morally.
The underlying conflict of any work about greed, whether by Charles Dickens or Oliver Stone, is of virtue versus the deadly sin. Orloff’s comedy conforms and embodies the conflict in its two characters. Norman Waterbury (Norman Moses) is a Caspar Milquetoast paragon of moral virtue and innocent niceness. He arrives, in a dull brown suit, for his interview with amoral corporate mogul Victor Burlington (David Cecsarini).
Orloff assesses corporate values by focusing on their absurdities. In the opening interview, Norman sits as far from Victor at his polished wood desk as physically possible on the Tenth Street theatre stage. Later, Victor applies some tests and comparisons of manhood, of course finds Norman wanting, and implies that his new employee might be homosexual. Such humiliations establish the hierarchy. The allure of power can turn the purest heart. Victor is a good teacher and transforms Norman. Victor, representing all things evil in the world of markets and mergers, boasts about his “illegal, unethical and immoral” modus operandi. By Act II, Norman appears to fall in line withVictor’s macho (OK, “asshole”) brand of business acumen. Norman sports a seriously smart dark suit and “wants it all.”
Naturally, there’s a twist. Eventually, Norman realizes his quest to become Victor, but in his own way.
Still, Moses capably shows Norman’s metamorphosis from cringing recruit to steel-nerved cutthroat. Cecsarini plays to the hilt the boss we love to hate. Cecsarini masters Victor’s confrontations and manipulations of Norman, his surreal phone conversations (with his mom, Santa and God!), and his outbursts of maniacal narcissism. But given the limits of the script, it’s a bravura performance rather than insightful theater. Neither role is particularly sympathetic or developed, but the actors carry off the caricatures well enough.
Rich Rasmussen’s scenic design presents a cold, modern office with a view of belching smokestacks. The set creates a sense of depth with forced perspective that pull the viewer into the infinity of corporate power and reach. Michael Van Dreser’s lighting completes the impression of imposing omnipotence. Mary McDonald Kerr directed.
The costumes by Aria Thornton reflect the requisite corporate look. Tie patterns differentiate the characters — straight and narrow stripes for Norman, crazy paisley for Victor.
Big Boys doesn’t deliver quite the Marx Brotherly mayhem one expects, but Orloff’s the one-liners, cynical silliness and perhaps an underlying lesson offer a fair evening’s entertainment.
This review is based on the preview performance, given Thursday, Jan. 27. The show opened Friday and runs through Feb. 13 at the Tenth Street Theatre, on the lower level of Calvary Church, at 10th and Wisconsin. Tickets are $25, $29 and $35, depending on performance day and time. Call the box office, 414-278-0765, or visit the Next Act website.