(l to r) Dean Nolen, Reyna de Courcy, George Hampe and Ann Harada in ‘Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
By Ryan Leeds
We all fall prey to corporate greed. That’s primarily the essence of Rob Ackerman’s play, Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson. It’s certainly not a new sentiment. Each day, we’re bombarded with news stories about social media data, working conditions, and hypocrisy that run rampant through the corporate world. But like lemmings, we simultaneously admonish “the system,” while we praise the conveniences they provide.
We want to uphold our ideals as much as Rob (George Hampe), a young, nervous props guy assigned to drop a specific number of red gumballs on the head of The Royal Tenenbaums star Luke Wilson (Jonathan Sale) for a cell phone commercial. For the most part, Rob enjoys his job, but after contemplating its societal impact, has an on-set meltdown.
“AT&T,” he says, wants us to “always be blasted with electric vibrations so we can see stock prices and send emails and read spam and watch porn and get cancer. Our goal here today is just to make more of that?” he dishearteningly questions
He’s not alone in his quest for righteousness. Jenny (Reyna de Courcy), a props assistant initially mesmerized by the commercial’s director Errol Morris (David Wohl), soon learns what an awful human being he actually is and lets loose exclaiming, ” I am so f*cking sick of bloated old white men telling us what’s right and what’s true in the world and in our minds and in our bodies.”
Ken (Dean Nolen) is fed up by the dissension. He’s the no-nonsense, practical senior props master assigned by assistant director Alice (Ann Harada) to supervise Rob. “What are you, independently wealthy, Mr. Trust Fund Brooklyn Brownstone?” Ken asks Rob. “This is my living, man. I need this. This is a good job, it’s the best job I’ve ever had.”
Like Ken and Alice, we all go to work, curb our tongues, submit to management, collect a paycheck and hit repeat.
This, unfortunately, is often the way the world works.
Ackerman isn’t only warning about the dangers and pitfalls of corporatization. Sure, those elements exist here, but the larger issues highlight the pervasive problem of power struggles in the workplace, both in terms of gender and authority.
Morris, the real-life documentary filmmaker (1988’s The Thin Blue Line), has also had a notable career in the commercial industry. This onstage incarnation commits to, “telling the truth — even in an AT&T commercial,” disregarding the safety of actors while he allows and encourages Wilson to be pelted in the head by rock hard gumballs, and dismissing both his crew and talent with superiority and arrogance.
It’s hard to tell whom Ackerman is referencing through his characters. According to press notes, his tale is loosely based on actual events. One might conclude that Morris is Harvey Weinstein, another bullying blight on humanity who — like Morris — “wants what I want and nothing else.” Another question that looms: Have Luke Wilson and Errol Morris agreed to be depicted in this Roman à clef?
Theresa Rebeck, best known for her critically acclaimed plays, makes her praiseworthy New York theatrical directorial debut. Her cast is pitch-perfect and she fully captures the satirical nature that the work demands. Comedy (more specifically, satire) is a challenge to perfect. Often, actors are not in unison with one another, or the tone of the piece and comedic bits quickly become stale. Rebeck keeps Ackerman’s hilarious script moving at a spritely pace. Her uniformly talented cast is one to admire.
Christopher and Justin Swader’s scenic design in the versatile A. R. T./New York Theatres space also helps keeps things rolling. The immersive design, complete with lights, reflectors, and a craft services table at the entrance, make the intimate audience feel as though they are eavesdropping on an actual film shoot.
Working Theater, the company behind this, has made it their mission to produce plays focusing on the working class. They’ve priced their tickets to reflect it and have succeeded in relaying a hugely amusing and thought-provoking tale that truly pops.
Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson
Mezzanine Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres
502 W. 53rd Street NYC
Through July 6
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.