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The Young and the Heartless: The Gronholm Method and No Love, Reviewed 

Thursday, Sep 6 2012
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In Jordi Galcerán Ferrer's comedy-thriller The Grönholm Method at Burbank's Falcon Theatre, the human resources department at a Fortune 500 company named Burnham & Burnham is seeking a new executive, preferably someone who's ruthlessly competitive, a bona fide heartless candidate. (The play is translated from the original Spanish by Anne Garcia-Romero and Mark St. Germain). The four finalists (Stephen Spinella, Graham Hamilton, Lesli Margherita and understudy Tim Martin Gleason in the performance I saw) arrive as willing participants in a hiring technique called The Grönholm Method, in which one of the four is said to be incognito, from human resources, and the first task of the other three is to identify the company man, or woman. That's just the first in a series of increasingly humiliating games.

The backdrop of the 2005 Spanish-Italian-Argentine movie The Method, based on Ferrer's play, is an IMF and World Bank summit, and the protests swirling around it. Onstage at the Falcon, however, there are passing, tinkered references to Occupy Wall Street. This play is about the costs and benefits of advancing through the upper tiers of global corporatism. Let's just say that sincerity is no virtue at these altitudes, which is hardly a surprise.

There are nods to moral philosophy, and nods to the Theatre of the Absurd. But the play is a cerebral thriller at core. Its driving purposes are to keep you on the edge of your seat and to prompt more reflexiveness than reflection. Once you understand that almost nobody in this play means what they say, or says what they mean, you can relax and enjoy. The rest is just a schematic game.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID NOTT - Laura Lee Bahr and Blake Anthony in No Love
  • PHOTO BY DAVID NOTT
  • Laura Lee Bahr and Blake Anthony in No Love

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Ferrer's play about who gets hired, and why, is theme-and-variation on The Apprentice intermingled with a dash of early Pinter, a game of musical chairs in which four finalists are thrown together in designer Brian Webb's scrupulously sleek office on the umpteenth floor of some scrupulously sleek tower. This is also a game in which nothing is at it seems.

The play's indignation stems from the intrusiveness by the company into the personal lives of its employees or, in this case, its job applicants. But what do you expect from a company paying out those kinds of salaries? Privacy? Such indignation may be better warranted at similar intrusiveness into the lives of employees mixing smoothies at Jamba Juice.

The applicants at Burnham & Burnham are told that they're welcome at anytime to remove themselves from the competition, of course. And their decision to cross that line is the mark of what used to be called character.

The performances are as spit-and-polished as Ann Closs-Farley's costumes, under BT McNicholl's direction.

The general, eerie sense of foreboding and surrender to an omniscient power recalls an early Pinter one-act called "The Dumb Waiter," in which two hired cockney assassins await instructions for their next hit while in a restaurant basement. Their cues come with a clash through the building's dumbwaiter. The pair grows steadily more perplexed with the arrival of packages such as scampi and stale crackers, as they struggle to make sense of what any of this actually means.

Grönholm's quartet is at the lucrative end of the same tunnel of hell. Their comparatively specific instructions, too, come through a drawer that clashes open, revealing a note or some party hats they need to wear for an improvisation they're commanded to perform. They know they're being heard and suspect they're being videotaped. Who ever said God is dead?

The Eclectic Company Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Andrew Osborne's "alternative comedy" No Love. What's "alternative" about it is the first in a number of questions about this production, directed by Kerr Seth Lordygan, as it seems so clearly to be a contemporary spin on Arthur Schnitzler's 1897 La Ronde — a play depicting a daisy-chain sequence of liaisons, revealing various permutations of love across the breadth of society.

Maybe it's the flashes of nudity or the graphic depiction of fetishistic dominance and submission in one of the play's marriages that qualifies it as alternative. Hard to tell. Oh, yes, there's a scene of erotic attraction and revulsion between a brother (Ryan McDonough) and a sister (Beth Ricketson), and between a gay man (Dustin Brooks) and his sexually confused pal (Daniel Marmion). But the situations depicted here, and the way in which they're depicted, are the grist of porn that's become a more accessible (rather than alternative) industry than many would care to admit.

Then there are questions surrounding Maggie (Lili Stephens-Henry), who opens the play with a lengthy monologue to the audience about her absentee boyfriend, the unwanted attractions of a male co-worker (McDonough) in her boyfriend's absence, said co-worker's rescue of her by gunning down a would-be rapist in cold blood. Her speech is followed by the play's first scene: said co-worker/rescuer's rape of Maggie while he's keeping her company, while her boyfriend's away. There's the question of why the opening of the play should be so devoted to her, or anybody's, soliloquy, when soliloquizing all but disappears thereafter. Furthermore, her soliloquy is delivered almost entirely in shadow, raising the question of whether a lighting cue was off on the performance reviewed, whether the performer couldn't find her light. Or, if this was intentional, what it was meant to signify?

The qualities of love unrequited, love twisted and love paralyzed are universal and here depicted through a prism of despondency. What virtues the play contains — and there are many — emerge, thanks to the brave and committed cast, which deserves more focused and rigorous direction.

The agony of loneliness is at the heart of this anti-romantic and violent comedy. The production aims to throw a series of sucker punches, as though when an emotional pitch is reached, the play or the production wants to mock that emotion with deliberately gratuitous cruelty, as in the writings of Marquis de Sade: Fools, don't you realize how corroded our romantic love stories have become.

Lordygan's production is good enough to reveal that complicated ambition but not good enough to fulfill it.

Two particularly strong performances are by Marmion as a bewildered Army reservist, and by Michelle Danyn as his platonic, childhood friend, so arrogantly glib when they meet years later. She admonishes him dismissively, despite his obvious yearning and heartbreak, that his childhood intransigence toward her squandered all opportunity, even now, for anything more than a friendship. Yet on her seemingly firm resolve, the tables too will turn. True to the spirit of this comedy, in a heartless world, tables keep turning, and destiny keeps lashing out against everyone.

THE GRÖNHOLM METHOD | By Jordi Galcerán Ferrer, translated from the original Spanish by Anne Garcia-Romero and Mark St. Germain | Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank | Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7 p.m.; through Sept. 30. | (818) 955-8108 | falcontheatre.com

NO LOVE | By Andrew Osborne | Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village | Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (added perfs Thursday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 4, 8 p.m.); through Oct. 4. | (818) 508-3003 | eclecticcompanytheatre.org

Reach the writer at smorris@laweekly.com

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