Kishline's Thoroughly Satisfying Success
Theatre MXT Stages Cleverly Crafted Office Drama
With Success, John Kishline has delicately crafted an exceedingly clever look at 70 minutes in the life of a man in his office. Originally produced in 1991, the play has since been updated. It recently came back from a tour of India funded by the Hindu MetroPlus Theatre and the US State Department.
The show makes it to the stage of Next Act’s new space on 255 South Water Street in a production starring playwright John Kishline (who also did lighting design for the show.) Kishline plays an executive at an ad agency that helped a US president into office. We follow him in real time as he takes a few phone calls and meets with a few people.
From the outset, we can tell that this isn’t just any 70 minutes for this man. The first person we see him talk with face to face is a legal council played by Ed Morgan, (who also directed and did set and sound design for the show.) He’s handing over paperwork that the executive needs to sign. It’s a huge decision on his part for reasons that become strikingly clear over the few minutes they share onstage. It’s the first of three major decisions he’ll be faced with over the course of the play, which runs entirely without intermission. We’re there with him and there’s no escaping what he has to do.
Kishline’s script dives right into the heart of the executive’s business without any desire for formal introduction. This is hugely refreshing. So many playwrights feel the need for lengthy exposition. Kishline throws the audience directly into this man’s office for a fly on the wall experience that is surprisingly engrossing. There are fairly long stretches of phone conversation where we only hear his half of what’s being said. To Kishline’s credit, he manages to make even those moments work. A good portion of the reason why this works is the fact that the dialogue doesn’t try to over-render the plot. There’s a kind of sharply witty poetry o the nuance in the dialogue—especially when Kishline is the only one onstage.
Kishline’s connection with Morgan comes across with precision and familiarity. The executive and his legal council have been working together in some very, very intimate business territory for what must have been a lifetime. They’re finishing each other’s sentences. This kind of familiarity can be tremendously difficult to pull off onstage, but Kishline and Morgan have a rapport that glides brilliantly through the early moments of the show.
The executive’s second face-to-face interaction of the play is with a potential client. Deborah Clifton plays a mysterious woman from Egypt who is looking to hire the executive for very ambitious work. Clifton plays a remarkable woman with a casual intensity that suits the role well.
The final face-to-face interaction finds the executive talking to a rising talent at his agency, played by Kriti Pant of Delhi, India. She was cast via Skype for the India tour of the show. Pant has a well-modulated fire about her. She’s been working for the executive for long enough to demand a promotion. Even though the executive has expressly said that he will take no more meetings, she approaches him. There’s a kind of enterprising ambition about that that the script never directly addresses in any major way, but you know it’s there. Pant brings a very subtly detailed understanding of that ambition to the stage in a performance that rounds out the play quite nicely.
On a deep, thematic level, Kishline’s script plays out with the kind of purity one finds in folktales and ancient myth. Each decision that he makes has repercussions on other decisions he’s making. There are very deep concerns here and some really important issues being brought up in the plot that are addressed with a profound respect for their complexity. In a way, it’s kind of breathtaking that Kishline manages so much in such a small space. This is sheer theatrical poetry. Very dense and satisfying stuff.