Arts & Events

Pitch Perfect hits a sour note at Central Works

By John A. McMullen II
Friday August 02, 2013 - 09:05:00 AM

I have referred to Central Works as a Berkeley Treasure. It has won many Critics Circle Awards. Gary Graves is a talented playwright and a good director. His choice of works is generally tip-top, while sometimes taking a chance with experimental fare.

However, this current production, Pitch Perfect by Martin Edwards, does not live up to that reputation in playwrighting, acting, and directing, as well as in the title, which is easily confused with the recent musical comedy film. 

Graves teaches playwrighting at Berkeley Rep School. The production is the second to come up through the Central Works Writers Workshop, a new developmental program at Central Works, initiated last year. Eight writers are commissioned in the twice-yearly program; those scripts selected for production are cast, and then go through a series of workshops with the actors and production team. 

The production itself features Timothy Redmond as the hotshot ad man in LA who has just lost many accounts and is visited by the NYC manager, played by Brian Trybom. Trybom’s character has come to serve Redmond’s character with his severance package and have him shown out by security. Deb Fink plays Redmond’s ex- wife who is also a player in the ad game and her ex-husband’s former partner, with Maggie Mason as Redmond’s secretary and lover. 

The play ends up in pretty much the same place it starts and no one seems to have made much change. 

There is a lot of chat, and too few witticisms, but they are undone by hackneyed jokes and one-liners. 

It rambles without clear action and the character development is lacking. 

Playwright Martin Edwards worked at a high-level in the ad game for many years, and the play is touted as if “… Don Draper decided to write his “Mad Men” insider memoirs as a comedy.” 

The dialogue cries out to be played with close-to-the-vest, sophisticated subtlety much as the acclaimed television model. But three-quarters of the cast is way over-the-top, milking the lines in fear that the audience might miss something—though after a while, they don’t seem to care. Brian Trybom comes in shouting as if to make sure the audience hears him rather than acting in character, and the over-projection continues until the last few moments of the play; it sets one teeth on edge and pulls the audience out of the play. Deb Fink slinks her nefarious character through its paces as one of the heavy-hitters in a man’s world—what they used to call the few women in advertising “Babes in Boyland.” Timothy Redmond is cheerfully insouciant with the hyper-expressiveness you get from drinking too much Red Bull. Maggie Mason plays the expat Brit, the type who can be found answering phones in many firms—hired much for their accent. Mason is a superb actress who gives life to a character that has little development, and we breathe easier upon her entrances. 

Both designers are award winners: Sound by Greg Scharpen is so subtle as to be unnoticeable and costumes by Tammy Berlin seem hurriedly pulled from the rack. The NYC ad manager’s suit is ill-fitting when we expect him to be impeccably and stylishly attired, as suits his position, Deb Fink at one point seemed to be wearing white Levi’s. Apparel in the ad world is stylish since their fundamental perspective is that the packaging is what makes the product sellable. 

I love this theater, and I recommend it heartily—just not this production. 

Playing through August 18th 

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