Bad Company


You can have too much of a good thing—especially when it’s the same thing over and over. New Georges’ Imagining Shadows and Collision Theory’s Incorporated: A Cinderella Story both bristle with successful gambits, but the stylistic repetitions pall, becoming fillers for the empty spaces where the authors couldn’t supply the goods.

Juliann France’s Imagining Shadows is a rich play in embryo. Set in rural Tennessee in 1958, it tells of a family that has lost its matriarch. Maw dies, leaving behind Paw, daughter Addie (a single mom to preteen daughters Biloxi and Carolina), and son Skip, a mute, retarded man who still lives at home. Her loss devastates them. But what really unhinges the group is Sara Mae—the conniving, aging temptress Paw marries right after burying his wife.

Maw, though, makes frequent postmortem appearances to counsel Skip and Biloxi—and move the plot along. When Sara Mae cajoles Paw into breaking his promise never to institutionalize Skip, Maw’s ghost helps forge a bond between helpless uncle and spunky little niece that will deliver the bereft son to a better place. If this sounds hokey, it is, at least whenever Maw materializes. This play works best at its most realistic: Its surreal flights never get off the ground.

Skip, played viscerally by Frank Deal as an anguished man-child, provides the ballast for Imagining Shadows. His silent performance communicates raw emotion in scene after scene. Terrified at shots ringing outside, he hugs his bed, cringes, sidles along walls. When he rubs his dead mother’s nightgown against his face, his grief resonates.

Biloxi is a kindred spirit. She too hoards and caresses Maw’s clothes, and her screams are an expression of his choked cries. Their bond is shown in physical gestures: Biloxi plucks daisy petals—Maw’s dead, Maw’s not—and Skip follows, wordlessly tearing the flower to pieces.

What’s sweet or touching the first time, though, tends to wear thin after a while. Take Skip’s shoe fetish. He removes them, puts them on, ties the laces, unties them—again and again. When Paw wrests the shoes away, leaving Skip marooned in bed without them, the terrified son soils himself. When his father rages at him abusively, the scene should be searing. But something’s missing.

France’s exposition is sketchy, badly timed, and clumsy. What, for example, was the relationship between Maw and Paw, between Paw and Skip? Why does Addie treat her kids as if she scarcely knows them? Jessica Bauman’s slow-walk direction makes these defects more obvious. Most troubling, there’s a fake cheeriness that undercuts the power of the play’s tragic denouement. Imagining Shadows begins and ends with a funeral, but there’s a lot of dead space between.

None of the departed walk in Incorporated: A Cinderella Story, and there’s no fairy godmother either. In fact, this fable bears little resemblance to the story we know as Cinderella. It lifts a few of its elements—scrubwomen and slippers—and plays a kind of jazz riff off them.

A young go-getter named Cinderella is hired into a cartoonish corporate conglomorate that sells shoes. The dementedly power-mongering female CEO has just put a bullet into her predecessor. While Cinderella bangs away at her typewriter to ascend the corporate ladder (a latticework of climbable wooden rungs), she is bullied by the Chief Bitch and manhandled by the lackeys. Corporate lingo is spouted, skullduggery abounds.

Stephanie Gilman and K Tanzer, who created and direct this extravaganza, have produced a stylized choreography that vibrates with the frenetic hum of office life and politics. In one tableau, the company members mime nonstop typing; in others, they stampede past each other, sit in a crazed chorus line, collapse to the floor, rock back and forth, masturbate, swear. One suddenly breaks into “I’m in the mood for love,” and all join in. In some sequences, they scrub the floor in a synchronized ballet.

Costumed in black with witty variations of the “corporate blue” trim, they suggest both strutting birds and ’40s hard-boiled businessfolk. The visual effects are ingenious. When a 27-year guy is fired, he’s handed a lamé golden parachute.

K Tanzer is delicious as the corporate barracuda, only one of a stellar company, and each of the designers—light, sound, set, and costume—deserves kudos for their skill and originality. Yet all of this invention—as well as some clever verbal parodies of corporate jargon and some inspired flights of profanity—dazzles only for the first half. As the Chief Bitch swears again, and Cinderella furiously pounds away at her workstation while her alter ego, the char-girl, makes her 10th appearance with a bucket, well, you begin to long for more development.

Incorporated does have a point, that corporate greed robs people of their souls, turning them ruthless and cruel. First trilled amusingly, the theme works overtime to wearying effect.

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