l to r: David Pierini, Howard Swain
photo: Jennifer Freyer
To close its current season, B Street Theatre brings audiences a timely farce that helps purge the venom of our resentment about the folly and greed that got us into today’s economic mess. “Big Boys” is a two-character satire by Rich Orloff, “one of the most popular unknown playwrights in the country.” It pits a modest, competent and principled business employee against his lunatic and self-serving boss,
A timid Norman Waterbury undergoes a job interview with the flamboyant and morally questionable Victor Burlington, who starts off with a test: rolling two metal balls into the eye sockets of a clown in a child’s toy, something Victor himself can’t do. Norm’s success, though, turns into a strike against him. Victor is flagrantly corrupt. “I never hold a grudge unless it’s financially agreeable,” he declares. As for capable employees, his policy is to “give them a bonus and deduct it from their salaries.”
But the exchanges don’t depend only on witty zingers. Instead the arguments come off like vaudeville routines, reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” classic. And along with the ingenious perversity there’s the acid of satire.
Victor claims he can “ferret meaning as well as, well, better than a ferret” and calls on his secretary to fetch him a ferret. He then commands Norm’s opinion on how well he badgers, squirrels and beavers. Victor is also a fountain of contradictions. He presents Norm with an idiotic business plan, then demands Norm’s approval.
Obviously unimpressed, Norm asks if Victor wants him to lie. To this Victor explains, “I want you to believe you’re telling the truth whether you are or not.”
The play’s movement evolves through Victor’s efforts to corrupt Norm, using impertinent questions about his sex life plus attempted invasions of his social activities. The tension increases as Norm hesitates between resistance and concession, even to the point of trying to quit his job. The play ends with an ambiguous irony.
Contributing to the play’s success is a fine cast, with B Street veteran David Pierini as Norm, this time playing straight man to newcomer Howard Swain, a Bay Area import with a long resume that includes experience on film, TV and stage, including off Broadway. We identify with Norm while Swain, as Victor, steals focus with outrageous behavior, long white hair, and long shiny teeth specially created for the show.
Director Buck Busfield deserves special mention for his canny treatment of theater in the round on B Street’s Mainstage. The largest piece of furniture is Victor’s huge desk. It partly obscures the scene from a section of the audience, especially when Victor drapes himself over it. So Busfield rotates the revolving stage a quarter of a turn during scene changes, allowing the entire audience to share the varying perspectives. Busfield also compensates nicely for the opening and closing of invisible doors by using sound effects.
“Big Boys” runs through June 7 at 2727 B Street, Sacramento, behind the Stanford Park Baseball Field. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 and 9 p.m., with matinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18-$30. Call (916) 443-5300. See also http://www.bstreettheatre.org/.