by Lynn Marie Macy · November 13, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #20 Lynn Marie Macy comments on middlemen now playing at New Jersey Rep
“Working in the face of decline is a great metaphor for life”, David Jenkins says in an interview about his play middlemen, which is now playing at New Jersey Repertory Company. Billed as a “comedy” Jenkins’s script is filled with humor but like his statement above, it also reveals pearls of truth about the human condition. The focus of the story is on Stanley Cahill (Duncan M. Rogers) a middle manager and Michael Aaronson (David Friedlander) a fiscal analyst droning away in the sixty floor office tower of a generic financial institution seemingly unaware that their co-workers have been disappearing one by one. They are producing the Annual Report under the pressure of a looming deadline. But crunching numbers and pushing papers amidst the fear and uncertainty of life and the possibility of becoming the “fall guys” for the economic collapse of Bolivia become a catalyst for the onset of a kind of madness and the two men bond as they begin a new bigger, more meaningful work, something like an in-depth analytical report of the philosophical and historical evolution of humanity. The story is told from a male perspective. Men traditionally define themselves by what they do as opposed to who they are and indeed the characters ask one another what it means to be a man. It is also interesting to peel away the layers of meaning that can be discovered in this play beginning with the many references to the “big guy” and the “little guy” in the face of corporate anonymity.
In the capable hands of director Marc Geller Jenkins’ script has been fully realized by the New Jersey Repertory Company. The fabulous set by Jessica Parks is a nauseatingly cold and generic office space so real that I felt sure I had been there before. The idea of the massive air-conditioning system surrounding them in this desolate building being like giant lungs sucking and exhaling is fabulously creepy. The offices and break room on stage had every gory detail in place and I delighted in being able to see “solitaire” on Stan’s computer screen. The lighting and costumes bring everything together by supporting the action without distracting from the flow. Geller’s direction is well paced, creative and detailed in its precision. He confidently mines the humor from every situation.
Duncan M. Rogers demonstrates extreme skill in his portrayal of Stan, the older domineering middle manager who uses work to avoid family intimacy. The character declares himself to be a functioning alcoholic and Rogers’s believable dissent into drunkenness to numb his feelings fuels the conflict that erupts between the two characters. David Friedlander successfully plays the younger meek fiscal analyst Michael. We root for his character to overcome his current situation and are taken by surprise when he finally gives in to his inner ferocity.
If there is any weakness to the Godot/No Exit like purgatory in which these men find themselves – it is that there are a few loose ends left dangling at the end of the play. I believe this is intended by Jenkins to be provocative and allow speculation by the audience but it is also slightly confusing. Perhaps his repeated emphasis on Bolivia is a play on the word “oblivion” or perhaps it is simply - a country in South America. But in any event, middlemen is an interesting theatrical destination that is sure to spark post play conversation.