Aaron Loeb’s play Ideation, now onstage at Urbanite Theatre, opens on a set of a corporate conference room, with a table, chairs, whiteboard, and pens and water bottles at the ready for a meeting. A scene many of us have enacted countless times, but hopefully you’ve never had a meeting quite like the one Loeb depicts in this dark comedy.
It’s a brainstorming session, and it takes place in real time (a little over 90 minutes, with no intermission). The team at work here is taxed with coming up with a solution for a client that, we soon learn, involves ominous terms like “liquidation,” “termination” and “disposal.” That’s dark enough, but about halfway through the evening the storyline takes a turn, as the employees begin to wonder if their assignment is real, or if they’re being tested in some form of psychological exercise.
The group is led, ostensibly, by Hannah (Summer Dawn Wallace), who’s brisk and efficient on the surface but bothered by the hovering of an intern named Scooter (Anthony Gullikson) that her own boss, the unseen company CEO, has saddled her with. Scooter isn’t liked by the brash, ambitious Brock (Brendan Ragan) either; he immediately starts tormenting him in hopes of getting him out of the room.
Seemingly a bit kinder in nature are the fatherly Ted (Tom Foley), anxious to get his work done so he can attend his daughter’s sporting event, and Sandeep (Gopal Divan), the engineer on the project, who seems awfully close to the married Hannah outside of the office. But as Loeb ratchets up the tension, it’s hard to know whom to trust—if anyone—in this twisty-turny amusement park ride.
All business at first, and willing to blithely dismiss any ethical concerns about their project, the characters here are obviously familiar with all the jargon and methods of working out different scenarios to offer their clients. But, sitting in a room dominated by inspirational slogans like “It’s Always Possible” and “Don’t Wait, Take Smart Risks,” as they enter unfamiliar territory and even confront paranoiac suspicions (there are “layers upon layers,” as Sandeep says, to this possible conspiracy) their panic level rises, theories run amok, and that whiteboard gets quite a workout as they scribble madly away.
Ideation is indeed darkly funny, and kudos to the cast, directed by Jim Sorenson, for handling the rapid barrage of often complicated dialogue and still managing to inject some personality into their portrayals. Ragan is particularly pointed as Brock, Gullikson looks the part of a pushy intern with a rich daddy, and Wallace and Divan add a little heat to the proceedings with their physical attraction scene. Foley seemed a bit uncertain at times the night I attended the show, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with his performance.
In the end, Ideation may leave you slightly exhausted with trying to keep up with all of its convolutions, but its intensity cannot be denied. The production continues through March 12; for tickets call 321-1397 or visit urbanitetheatre.com.