C.E.O. and Cinderella
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 25, 2008
Angela Madden's day job stories are different from most other actors'. Sure, she's got the cocktail waitress gig that she can talk about; but if you want the really meaty anecdotes from her past, then you'll be hearing about years spent working as secretary to a series of rich, high-powered executives—men whose names, if Madden were indiscreet enough to drop them, we'd very likely recognize. Her time spent with these overachieving egoists is one of the main subjects of C.E.O. & Cinderella, Madden's new autobiographical one-woman show, which is currently being presented by Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, a company of which she is a co-founder.
Life with these C.E.O.s is glamorous and vicariously thrilling and emotionally draining and occasionally dispiriting (if not downright humiliating). Madden never really explains where she got the unique combination of technical expertise, people skills, and chutzpah that have apparently made her so successful in her occupation, which is itself a bizarre conglomeration of secretary, personal assistant, and babysitter for grown-ups. Her tolerance for the, shall we say, foibles of the powerful men for whom she has worked seems to border on the saintly; I can't imagine lasting more than an hour doing the kind of work at which she has excelled for decades. Indeed, the main moral that I took away with me from C.E.O. & Cinderella is that just because we overpay executives doesn't mean we should also overindulge them...but we seem to be stuck in a system where that's precisely what we do.
The play tracks Madden's journey from a childhood in Indiana and Florida, through stints working in Texas, Los Angeles, and New York City. She had always wanted to be an actress, she tells us, and in between the tales about day jobs she offers some tantalizing glimpses of this avocation of hers (including a performance that never was, as Emily in Our Town, a role she never got a chance to play). She also recounts stories from a childhood that was far from idyllic; her memories are potent and mostly sad, and as they wrap around the recollections of her secretarial work, a kind of psychological portrait does emerge. If the play pulls the pieces together more neatly and smoothly than might be strictly satisfactory from a dramaturgical point of view, the show's conclusion provides ample assurance that, despite what she has been through, Madden has effectively put the past behind her and is looking toward a hopeful future. (It is possible, in fact, that creating and performing C.E.O & Cinderella has contributed positively to her healing process.)
Madden's a fine, vivid writer, and the descriptions of, especially, the various places she's worked—a used car lot in Texas, a huge Park Avenue apartment filled with animal trophies—are deftly evoked and easily conjured in the mind's eye as she speaks. She's also a commendable actor, though I wish that director Barbara Bosch had allowed her to be a bit more still in this show—there's a lot of stage business that feels superfluous, created seemingly to add motion to a story that's already brimming with energy.
The script is both more repetitive and more diffuse than it probably needs to be; paring it down some might give it greater impact. And I wondered whether fiction might be a better mode of expression for Madden's story, rather than autobiography. It's human nature to enjoy gossip, and knowing that the people who figure in her narrative are probably real sometimes distracts from or diminishes what she's got to say about them. An imagined tale about someone like Madden—but not Madden herself—could help transcend that problem, and allow her to focus on what's really important in her experience, and worth sharing with an audience.