Clever writers write about something without directly writing about it. This is what we have in Beau Willimon’s Breathing Time, receiving its world premiere with Fault Line Theatre at Teatro Iati. You think you are watching a comedy on modern day office relationships, and then halfway through you understand what Mr. Willimon is getting at.
The play’s title might describe shooting the breeze, the small talk that goes on between Mike (Lee Dolson) and his new office-mate Jack (Craig Wesley Divino). Mike is the numbers wonk, working on derivatives on a high floor that overlooks Manhattan’s financial district. He looks the stiff nerd, married with an 8 year old named Todd. But you get the feeling it would take very little to get Mike to let his hair down. Actually, he may be dying to break out.
Mike’s mismatch Jack has moved into a desk across from him, though Jack is a marketing guy. Jack is a serial talker who refers to the executives upstairs as big dicks and seven or eight other terms for private parts. Jack’s locker room mouth belies his intellectual side, for he has memorized Machiavelli’s The Prince and reads Gunther Grass and Thomas Mann. His brain is so sharp that he beats former Eagle Scout Mike at knowing Scout Law by heart. He calculates hiring gorgeous assistant Karen (Whitney Conkling), not out of sexism but pure strategy. He wants the big dicks paying attention to her when he pitches them crap.
Mr. Willimon writes complex characters, though a lesser writer might have entered into caricature. He knows that human beings have many sides, even opposing thoughts and feelings within the psyche. Faithfully married Mike practically gets a hard-on when Jack shows him a photo of his hot younger sister. When he tells Jack that he wants to join army reserves, Jack cares. He tries talking him out of it with a possibly true story of his dad, a Vietnam veteran who wound up in an opium den.
The dialogue is witty and snappy, perhaps a skill Mr. Willimon honed in writing for film and television. The conversation sails from topic to topic like a bee flies flower to flower. Mike drinks Starbucks, Jack drinks Chinese caffeinated piss, and Jack accuses Mike of being a slave to a corporate brand. They move onto Jack’s new marketing system that bets on Nielsen ratings, when Jack invites Mike to get in on the pot-of-gold scheme. They plan on getting rich and living easy in Costa Rica.
Early on, Mike tells Jack to vote for Bloomberg. There were fateful hints, like the high floor, and Jack going on about preferring midtown to downtown. But I didn’t see it coming. Today is just another normal day. Mike and Jack stretch and look out their panoramic window. And the planes hit the Twin Towers.
Not long after, Jack’s sister Denise (Shannon Marie Sullivan) invites Mike’s widow Julie (Molly Thomas) for cocktails in New York. They are as different as Jack and Mike were. Though Jack thought she was a dancer, Denise is really a stripper in Minneapolis. Julie is as buttoned-up as her husband was, though a few sidecars loosen her up enough to come on to their waiter (John Racioppo). Hate to say it, but this scene about the survivors, meant to be poignant, was a letdown after the so-entertaining repartee in the office.
Aaron Rossini’s direction is well-orchestrated. He cast well. The actors are spot on in character portrayal and truthfulness. It is difficult describing perfection, but when you can’t see others in these roles, that may be it.
Mr. Willimon wisely ends by bringing us back to the office in a flashback on Jack’s first day. Jack tells Mike, “My job is to come up with shit.” The new office-mates take a selfie at the window with the “awesome view”. It reminds you of the little things people do and care about. This is when the tragedy of 9/11 hit me.
By Beau Willimon; directed by Aaron Rossini; sets by Tristan Jeffers; lighting by John Eckert; costumes by Izzy Fields; sound by Chad Raines; stage manager, Brooke Redler; props by Renny Cullen; assistant director, Jason Modica; graphic design by Mandi O’Brien; development consultant, Diana Biurski; line producer, Melanie Hopkins; production manager/tech director, Nathan Frieswyk; assistant set design, Rachel Glotter; intern, Brian Drummy; press rep, Matt Ross; publicity, Rachel Aberly. Presented by Fault Line Theatre, Craig Wesley Divino and Aaron Rossini, Co-Artistic Directors. At Teatro Iati, 64 East 4th Street, between 2nd Ave. and Bowery. SmartTix at (212) 868-4444 orwww.smarttix.com. Through April 13. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes, no intermission.
WITH: Whitney Conkling (Karen), Craig Wesley Divino (Jack), Lee Dolson (Mike), John Racioppo (Waiter), Shannon Marie Sullivan (Denise), Molly Thomas (Julie).