Bag&Baggage asks: Have we really come a long way, baby?
Weve all seen 9 to 5, Mad Men and countless other dramedies dealing with sexism and gender inequity in the culture of American business.
In 2015, can a play even if written in 2012 based on the absurd sexual politics of the 1950s have anything meaningful to offer, other than cheap laughs and a little head scratching at how stupid everybody used to be? Surely the feminist revolution of the 70s fixed all that!
This question is answered with a resounding yes in the Bag&Baggage production of Rona Jaffes The Best of Everything, adapted for the stage by Julie Kramer. The story is based on Jaffes bestselling 1958 book, and explores the lives of a group of young secretaries in New York City.
Bag&Baggage, already known for its consistent elevation of the status of women, has outdone itself in this profound and hilarious production.
It opens as recent Radcliffe grad Caroline is left waiting on the pier by her fiancé, Eddie, who has hitched his wagon to the daughter of a wealthy Texas oilman. Unwilling to go back home in defeat, Caroline takes a secretarial job at Fabian Publishing, where she finds herself surrounded by women whose lack of ambition and stereotypical obsession with snagging a husband at first seems to define them.
As the play progresses, the women become more complex, and issues like wage gaps, sexual harassment, marital infidelity, the glass ceiling, abortion and stalking flesh out these characters lives. Ultimately Caroline becomes an editor, while most of the others get the husband and family they sought but at what price?
And then theres the death of Gregg, the aspiring actress who cannot accept rejection by David, a producer and super-cad who rivals Eddie for the title worst boyfriend/husband material on Earth.
Clearly, the comedy is not inherent in the sometimes-grim plot, but this smartly written play is loaded with ironic one-liners and absurd perspectives that are amplified by Michelle Milnes direction and her casts spectacular use of timing, especially the pregnant pause.
Cassie Greers Caroline is played with an admirably straight face, even when confronted with the ridiculous things she hears from her bosses, former fiancé and co-workers. Her unflappable acceptance of the most outrageous conduct is terribly funny, but also illustrative of how commonplace this blatant behavior was in the 1950s.
Andrew Becks alarmingly self-centered Eddie is evocative of Cinderellas Prince suave, pretentious, condescending and utterly clueless. Joey Copsey plays the remaining four male roles, and displays a remarkable ability to shift characters at the drop of a hat or the addition of a cravat. He relies more on posture and delivery than costuming cues to create the weirdly sympathetic Mike; the elderly lech/boss Mr. Shalimar; the utterly despicable David; and the awkward, stuttering, naive but sweet Ronnie.
Morgan Cox manages her characters transition from arrogant and amoral ice princess to reluctantly supportive mentor with believable subtlety, and Arianne Jacques portrayal of the pathetic stalker Gregg is both chilling and heartbreaking.
The staging, sets and costumes combine to support both the humor and deeper themes of the story. The interchangeable desks create invisible walls, illustrating workplace class distinction and emphasizing the employers view that the secretaries are completely interchangeable. Hats become symbols of maleness, and ambitious women don hats as part of the uniform of success but the hats also are used to show that it is really the men who are soulless cogs in the machine.
So why is The Best of Everything engaging and profound over a half-century after the books debut, and several decades after the sexual revolution should have made its issues passé? Take a look at the current crop of presidential candidates for a clue. And dont miss the opportunity to see this wonderful production.
The play runs through Sept. 27 with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT