Isn’t language marvelous? The interplay between words and meaning, denotation and connotation, is ever evolving, its fluidity influenced by cultural, temporal and psychological factors. A single concept may be referred to in any number of ways, each with its own distinct flavor.
The perceived difference between “reframing” a situation and “spinning” it elegantly illustrates this notion. To reframe an event or to spin it are fundamentally identical endeavors, yet reframing implies a positive worldview realignment — like seeing a crisis as an opportunity. But spinning carries with it the distasteful implication of dishonest, self-interested manipulation — like using the phrase “mistakes were made” to minimally acknowledge culpability while simultaneously maximizing the speaker’s distance from it.
Today’s corporate culture is a wasteland of jargon seemingly devoted to obfuscation. Playwright Aaron Loeb teases much dark humor from the Gordian knot of corporate-speak with his play, Ideation, which is enjoying its regional premiere thanks to the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC).
With Ideation, BETC succeeds in turning a crisis into an opportunity via some logistical gymnastics. For its past nine seasons, BETC has called the Dairy Arts Center home, but with the massive reconstruction, renovation and expansion of the Dairy in full swing, BETC is unable to stage any of the rest of its 10th season shows there. Homeless but ever-hopeful, BETC has been forced to find new venues in which to perform. Where many theater companies would have struggled with this challenge, BETC has used it to turn its production of Ideation into a site-specific theater event, and the result is outstanding.
As director Stephen Weitz explains, “The play is set in a corporate conference room, so we thought, ‘Why not just do it in a conference room?’ Bring the audience right onto the set, as it were, and do the show practically in their laps.”
And that’s just what BETC has done by staging Ideation in conference rooms at both the Boulder Chamber of Commerce and downtown technology company MobileDay. Call it theatre vérité, if you must, but the intimate presentation — there were only three rows of seats for fewer than 100 people on opening night — draws the audience completely into the play’s world of overhead fluorescent lights, whiteboards and Starbucks addiction… possibly better than traditional, arms-length staging would.
Ideation presents a group of management consultants brainstorming the first draft of a solution to a technically and morally complex problem. Before the specific nature of “Project Senna” is even disclosed, the play inundates the audience with lingo like “production efficiencies,” “point of distro,” “sub-optimal,” “vid-con” and “passing liability down the line.” Before long, the coffee-swilling corporate shills begin to see the monstrous implications of the work they are doing, and a palpable and hilarious sense of paranoia pervades the room. Its sine wave-like escalation and abatement become the pulse of the show.
The acting in Ideation is excellent all around. Karen LaMoureaux plays Hannah, the upper-management leader of the group, with exceptional subtlety. Her character enjoys the most-defined arc, and LaMoureaux makes the most of it. She brings equal verisimilitude to episodes of hard-nosed corporate leadership, team-building snark and even deeply emotional moments of truths.
As the alpha prick, Brock, Brian Shea grabs onto the role and shakes it like a winter-tanned, suit-jacketed great white, which makes later scenes in which Brock’s self-confidence is sorely tested that much funnier.
Playing the elder statesman of the group, Ted a.k.a. Papa Bear, Jim Walker excels at everything but a wavering Southern accent.
Hossein Forouzandeh has one of the meatiest parts. His engineer, Sandeep, is the closest thing Ideation has to a voice of reason, and he gets some of Loeb’s best lines. Sandeep’s observation on the American propensity for blind trust coupled with crippling paranoia is particularly delicious.
In a much smaller part, that of the intern Scooter, Luke Sorge does his best with limited stage time.
The amalgam of pitch black humor and mounting paranoia makes Ideation a unique beast. Bursts of regular, ebullient laughter alternate with shocked silences, all set to the lilting nonsense of boardroom nomenclature.
To wit, as the vision holder responsible for spinning up optimized entertainment initiatives, you should give serious consideration to the advisement to decouple your ass from your couch and go see Ideation.
On the Bill: Ideation — presented by BETC. MobileDay, 2040 14th St., Boulder. Through March 13. Boulder Chamber of Commerce, 2440 Pearl St., March 16-20. Tickets: 303-351-2382, www.betc.org, $16-$27.