by Shirley Lorraine
Workplace Woes Erupt at the Elite
There’s nothing like live theater. Always a treat, often a surprise, frequently a challenge. The Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard is bursting forth with excitement and new works in this returning season. On stage now is Severance Play, an original work by local playwright Michael Perlmutter. The work was chosen as the Elite’s 2020 Playwright Initiative Winner, and for good reason.
Perlmutter’s works, both onstage and off, are always insightful, intelligent and instilled with layers of nuance. Severance Play, billed as a black comedy, certainly fills the bill.
Staged in the round, this play in one act is riveting, explorative and hilarious. Brian Robert Harris directed a trio of highly capable actors, Brian Kolb, Kimberly Demmary and Maddie Boyd, in this fast-paced crisis-driven peek into the workplace of a small chemical company presented with severe challenges both on and below the emotionally charged surface.
The setting is highly detailed. Theater seats have been removed to accommodate desks, filing cabinets, steno chairs and computers. The computers are used and loaded with proper company logo and information. The white board is used. Employees get coffee. You feel you are really in an office setting.
Audience members are directed to socially acceptable spaced seating both on the actual stage and the usual audience seating area. Staging in the round can be extremely awkward and challenging. This production has achieved almost optimal viewing, from my perspective. The actors take every opportunity to present to all areas of the audience, using natural transitions effortlessly.
All three actors are superb in their portrayals. Kolb ramps up his character to a fever pitch while remaining understandable. I was exhausted just watching him. Demmary remained the “cool customer” throughout, controlling the situation with well-timed reactions and inflections. Boyd too, added just the right amount of youthful naivete laced with bravado to offer a solid character.
The writing is tight. Every word adds importance to the whole. The storyline starts with an explosive revelation and reveals layer after layer of additional background throughout for each of the characters. At times all the actors are speaking at once and it still completely makes sense. (If it were a musical, they would all be singing in counterpoint)
The very last moment, in my opinion, wasn’t a solid clincher moment. However, I left with a feeling of having seen something rather remarkable. After all the actors had been through, I understood the need to end on a laugh.
Bravo to writer Perlmutter, who continues to bring thoughtful, fresh ideas to the stage, and to the Elite for staging this challenging work. The play is filled with adult language and content, so discretion is advised.
Severance Play runs through November 21 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Reservations are necessary as seating is limited due to social restrictions. (805) 483-5118, www.TheElite.org. Masks and proof of vaccination are required, per current county mandates.