The notion of nation-states and national sovereignty is often derided. However, when nations are superseded by multinational corporations, much accountability can shift from a community’s grassroots where local courts formerly had authority to board rooms abroad: Dubai, Brussels, Beijing, etc. Worse still, if these companies have bought out politicians and courts globally, then what recourse do those wronged by a corrupt company actually have? Moreover, might it be possible that in some cases we don’t even know where a company is actually based? No wonder we hear such references as “the faceless corporation” where no one is sure where the buck actually stops. Nonetheless, a network of unquestioning employees “just doing their job” in a globally focused enterprise adheres to instructions in order to maintain their position and salary. It may not pay to think too deeply. Especially deep within such networks where some very good salaries and commissions are apt to be available to the business’s vitally important “crisis management” team.
Aaron Loeb’s contemporary comedy, Ideation, is an ingeniously intricate look into such a team tasked to shape a containment policy for an emergency response for a killer virus. However, when the sinister terms like “liquidation” are bandied about, we know that their efforts may have darker implications. Things like genocide and extermination creep into the mind’s eye. Moreover, when the crisis managers start to mull over the possible existence other crisis management teams secretly assigned the same project, the paranoia level escalates notably.
The crackling cast at Gremlin Theatre turns the play’s appropriately sterile looking boardroom (Carl Schoenborn, set designer) into a site for intellectual and emotional fireworks as the team is actually driven to increasingly delusional hysteria. Director Brian Balcom has masterfully guided the actors to differentiate Loeb’s numerous twists, turns, mental contortions, and conspiratorial suspicions in a stunningly compact, crisply executed 90 minutes.
Peter Christian Hansen and Brian P. Joyce, as Brock and Ted, marvelously contrast one another as two corporate types who often tangle furiously with one another, yet who know they are bound in this together. Katherine Kupiecki as Hannah, in one of her best performances to date, embodies the essence of a good corporate woman of our time: trying her best to be principled and inclusive of difficult men in trying situation. She and Nikhil Pandey bring vibrant energy to their illicit office romance, which Hannah has yet to realize the others actually know about. Ben Shaw is deliciously smug as privileged Scooter, the well-connected young intern who tries to pull rank on the team members. This remarkable cast reveals not only grotesque undercurrents of corporations gone awry, but how the anxiety-driven corporate culture shapes identity.
Through July 29
Gremlin Theatre, 550 Vandalia St., St. Paul