Chicago Theatre Review
Waiting for The Big Kahuna
Ah, the complicated world of big business. It revolves around so many significant events, but none is as important as the annual sales convention, usually held at major metropolitan hotels. Such is the setting for three men from a Chicago-based industrial lubrication company who have set up their convention’s party room in a modest Wichita Holiday Inn suite. The goal is to schmooze and make sales, plying important clients with enough booze and bullshit to convince them to buy their product. The evening that lies ahead is mostly successful, perhaps not for the characters but for the audience.
Guest director Cody Estle, whose credits include many of Chicago’s midsize theatres, has made Roger Rueff’s interesting comic drama move along. With clean strokes, economical staging and enough push to provide momentum in a play that’s driven more by character development than plot, Estle knows his craft well. It also helps that he has some excellent, very competent talent with whom to work.
Of Estle’s four-member cast, Will Casey as Phil and Citadel’s Artistic Director Scott Phelps shine brightest. These two excellent actors really know how to pace a monologue (of which there are many in this script), play comedy naturally and essentially make these business-obsessed men almost likable. Casey’s Phil stands out as the play’s most identifiable character, especially for the typical Citadel audience. He’s a middle-aged man going through many significant changes at a time when life should be slowing down for him. Instead, Phil is in the final stages of a divorce, unhappy with his family, dissatisfied with his job, questioning his place in the cosmos and wondering if anyone really loves him. Casey plays this man with just the right amount of vulnerability to make him someone audiences would want to know. Scott Phelps‘ Larry is also someone we’ve all known or met. His whole life revolves around his career and his compulsion to do better. Phelps handles this man with moxie and skill. He’s coarse, bombastic and loud; he’s that guy we all have met who thinks he knows it all. He even calls himself “the seducer” when it comes to making sales. Phelps plows through some extraordinarily lengthy chunks dialogue with ease, although sometimes unfortunately tripping over words here and there. But he remains the guy who guides and propels this play.
In a minor role as The Man, Dan Deuel has some excellent moments at the top of the second act as a juiced-up business rep lingering in the hospitality suite until the very end of the night. Deuel’s overbearing bravado and loud declarations about sports and business succinctly establish his character in a short amount of time.
Less successful is newcomer Shane Murray-Corcoran as Bob, the company’s fish-out-of-water research scientist asked to be “the brains of this group.” To be fair, the playwright hasn’t given his character much in the way of dialogue except to continually respond “I don’t know” or “What do you mean?” He primarily serves as a sounding board for Larry and Phil’s Business 101 lectures, but he quickly becomes annoying. This is mostly due to Corcoran’s staccato and explosive delivery that becomes too predictable. The actor hasn’t found much variety in his short bursts of dialogue and, while Bob is the new member of this sales team, he sometimes looks disconnected with his fellow actors. While audiences may initially identify with his greenhorn status, we become as frustrated as the other characters with Bob; we see how the young man’s narrow-minded, conservative, religious philosophy has taken over his life, and Bob becomes the play’s antagonist.
Sean McIntosh surprisingly and delightfully repurposes the tiny Citadel stage to create, down to the finest details, a recognizable hotel room. Roger Rueff’s riff on Mamet’s “Glengarry, Glen Ross” and Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” sets his play in the highly competitive world of sales. Also echoing Sartre’s “No Exit,” reminding us that “Hell is other people,” this character-driven comic drama plays out in a claustrophobic hotel suite. As Larry and Phil wait to snare The Big Kahuna, the sale that will propel their company to top dog status in the business world, we learn first-hand what makes us really tick.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 3-March 9 by Citadel Theatre Company, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL.
Tickets are available by calling 847-735-8554 or by going to their website, www.citadeltheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.