In the Elephant Theatre Company's world premiere of Kevin King’s hyper-realistically staged “The Idea Man,” director David Fofi diagrams the greasy moral links of the corporate food chain.
To his credit, Fofi plays it via character development, not via some capitalist/proletariat yada yada yada. The play comes off more Zola, less Lenin, more a panorama of the human condition than a idée fixée screed.
In this story of duplicity, double-crossing, and deceit, you see that any bottom line is a pyrrhic victory in the battle between for-the-team and me-tooism. It’s like those Russian dolls, a larger one that contains a smaller one, et cetera, with the end result being one big nothing.
Fred Thompson, played by Robert Foster, is an engineer in this manufacturing company. We don’t know what they make but it’s got the idea man, the grunts, and the suits that manage the whole shebang. Foster’s low key and efficient, a company guy. If he knows any Big Picture, he’s not letting on, at least initially. The best transformation of this production is Foster’s Fred’s onion-skin unfolding of the real significance of Al’s idea. It’s a dilly.
He also needs to be diplomatic. That’s where the cracks in his veneer appear; but for reasons we don’t initially suspect.
He needs to pick the brains of machine operator, Al Carson (James Pippi). Al’s a wisecracker, smarter than he lets on, the life of the party, a troublemaker - (hits on Frank’s wife, Maureen (Gina Garrison) at a party; rams into the Big Cheese Jim Simmons’s (David Franco) car in the staff parking lot - but also a troubleshooter. His idea box submission in theory can save his company millions of dollars. But that’s not why it’s important. Oh, the calumny!
Frank’s in a delicate position. You can see it in Foster’s face, his posture. Though an engineer – he’s educated, high paid - he needs Al’s help to flesh out the concept for the company’s head honcho a few days hence. Al’s not educated, at least formally, he makes a lot less.
Al’s feral-wary, suspicious of Men in Suits (Pippi nails all this, suavely). And with good reason: the exploitation is far more pervasive than we originally suspect; and it moves up as well as down the food chain.
The technical aspects of the play deserve equal billing with anyone in this fabulous cast. Noelle Leiblic’s stage is so real you want to wear a hard hat. It doesn’t look like a machine shop, it is a machine shop. It’s got the patina of age and man-use. Things perfectly arrayed, just-so, in a spectacular display of studied casualness.
When the play opens – before we think it opens – one of the guys operates some sort of spark-emitting machine. The men go about their tasks, listening to music (nice playlist, Matt Richter), just the kind of music you’d expect to hear in such a shop.
Performances are 8 PM, Thursday - Saturday. The show runs until June 20. Tickets are $20. The Theatre is located at 6332 Santa Monica Boulevard. For more information call 323-960-4410 or visit www.elephanttheatrecompany.com.