nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 13, 2009
Resignations, a new play by John Kearns at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, is about two young women who work in a large corporate office in New York City. It traces nearly a year of their time there, with first one and then the other becoming disenchanted with the monotony and lack of fulfillment of her work. Simultaneously, the second and then the first asserts the importance of stability and a steady paycheck in today's uncertain economy.
Kearns tries some interesting stuff in Resignations. The play is structured into five sections that correspond to several quintets: the days of the workweek, the elements of the traditional Chinese calendar (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal), the seasons of the year (the play uses five, dividing summer into two parts), and five manifestations of the idea of Yin and Yang. So the first part of the play takes place in Winter on a Monday and contains a lot of water symbolism and is thematically rooted in the idea of opposition; that's the idea.
Each of the "days" contains five scenes, which are set at the same five signpost moments of office culture: morning coffee, a daily conference call from the higher-ups, lunch, an afternoon Starbucks run, and end-of-day.
Trouble is, Kearns is less rigorous sticking to his own rules than we'd hope: some of the sections are steeped in references to the element or Yin/Yang concept, while others are not. At the same time, the division of each section into the same five subsections quickly becomes repetitious. Though small conflicts arise throughout the play, none develops into anything authentically compelling. I suspect that Kearns's intent is to illustrate how most people, left to their devices, seek comfort and shun entropy/risk. But while true, this proves to be a pretty undramatic idea, and Resignations suffers as a result.
Kearns's protagonists are Chinese American women, but—notwithstanding the play's formatic references to Chinese culture—it was never clear to me why that was important. Unreal moments in an otherwise naturalistic presentation—for example, the women put on masks during the conference call, and sometimes assume yoga-like poses—confused me. And a running gag whereby phone conversations always consist of business buzzwords and acronyms grew tiresome early on.
Erin Smiley's direction is straightforward, for the most part. It seemed like not enough attention was paid to the readability of the frequently used PowerPoint-like slides. The performances of Amy Chang and Joy Lanceta as the two young women are fine; John P. Skocik, as the play's narrator, has great stage presence and injects much-needed humor and humanity to the proceedings.