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The Idea Man 

Thursday, May 14 2009
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The unspecified manufacturing plant at the heart of Kevin King's comedy-drama has a "Gillette account," referring to the razors and razorblades being produced there, among other products. The detailed set design (credited to Elephant Stageworks) includes welding stations lined along the walls of the tiny stage. The realism in the design creates a naturalistic and enveloping atmosphere of the workplace, which supports and, in subtle ways, also stifles King's richly textured examination of the class divide within that factory and, by implication, across America's dwindling manufacturing base. When Al Carson (James Pippi), a bright machinist and union rep, visits the salubrious home of plant manager Simmons (David Franco), Al's awe and awkwardness are apparent in Pippi's expressions, while behind him, we see welding machines, which is a intrusion. As directed by David Fofi in a style that combines earthy David Mamet/Steppenwolf Theatre realism with occasional hints of a sitcom in the making, the ensemble is so good that the production rides largely on the strengths of the atmosphere and the actors. Al has just won the "suggestion of the month" prize, for a design generating exponentially more efficiency in the production of razorblades. The idea could be worth millions of dollars in potential savings to the company, and for this, Simmons is willing to reward Al with a check for $100 and a laminated plaque with his name on it — on the condition that Al signs over the rights to his design. Al understands the insult; he's no fool What ensues is a series of artfully conceived scenes between the Al and staff engineer Frank (Robert Foster), who's task is to make Al's idea "work" — a blue collar–white collar cat-and-mouse game in which the roles of cat and mouse keep shifting. That Simmons would invite top management to fly in from God knows where, this coming weekend, no less, for a presentation on Al's suggestion — even before Frank has had the opportunity to test it — reveals a management style so reckless, it's hard to believe. Yet it's on this somewhat contrived stress test that playwright King builds the play's suspense. King's ideas are so fine, they deserve refining. Elephant Theatre Company, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through June 6. (323) 960-4410.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: May 8. Continues through June 20, 2009
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Reach the writer at smorris@laweekly.com

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