Lucy McMichael, Brad Bellamy, AJ Cedeno and Tom Mardirosian in MARCH MADNESS. Photo by Kim T. Sharp.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun piece that shows how a March Madness office pool transforms into a symbol of hope for three familiar but genuinely portrayed office workers.
The editorial staff at The Drugstore Times is overworked, understaffed, and stressed. It’s a scenario we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t make it any less pertinent. Essentially, Mike Vogel’s new play March Madness uses the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, famous for its tiered brackets and subsequent betting, as a backdrop for discussion about a strained economy and the 99% that carry it on their backs.
At curtain we learn that downsizing has occurred and the already small staff is to prepare themselves for an “unusually tough week.” Herb (Brad Bellamy) is a sniveling, pathetic, middle management type -- think Kevin Spacey as John Williamson in the movie version of Glengarry Glen Ross, only more sniveling…and more pathetic. Kyle (AJ Cedeño) is the enthusiastic young writer on the staff. Kim (Lucy McMichael) is the timid copyeditor, and Maury (Tom Mardirosian, known for his role as Agamemnon Busmalis in HBO’s Oz) is the grouchy but likeable leader of the gang. Their banter is fast and the pace is admirable. After several minutes of repartee it becomes clear that the play is really going to be about the characters and the plot is going to take a back seat. This was fine by me as I found all the performers portraying what could have been static stereotypes with believability and heart. Much like the college basketball games themselves I found myself rooting for these three underdogs.
The story itself is fairly simple. Maury runs an NCAA basketball office pool every year but this year he decides to make things interesting by bumping up the usual entry fee of five dollars per person to five thousand dollars per person. His goal is to make the winning pot so big that anyone who wins can use it for what they all desperately want; to escape the near dystopian office space they spend the majority of their lives inside. The oppression from ‘the man’ is apparent as Maury tries to bring journalistic integrity into a newspaper that is only concerned with pleasing its advertisers. This comes to a head when salesman Nick (powerfully portrayed by Mark Doherty) insists Maury change his headline to include a small time candy company as controlling the candy market alongside two famous brands. Maury’s struggle is classic: how much of your pride are you willing to sacrifice for an unfulfilling job? Meanwhile, the personal problems of Kyle and Kimleft me rooting for all three to win the pool, which totals a quarter of a million dollars after all the entry fees are collected.
March Madness feels almost Orwellian as the workers type and edit away in the dingy office. References are made to Big Brother and there’s also the disembodied voice of their boss, Donald, to take into consideration. Donald is only present through phone calls from Herb’s cell phone. One scene in particular reminds me of the not too distant echoes of the Occupy movement when Kyle and Kim ask about their long delayed raises and Christmas bonuses while Donald is preparing for his vacation to Bermuda.
After an unfortunate typo causes Donald to make a drastic decision, the mood in the office turns bleak. But there is hope, and it lies in winning the office pool and the chance for freedom from their soul-sucking daily grind. With a few more twists in store before the play’s -- not altogether surprising -- end, we are given glimpses of hope amidst the disparaging climate of The Drugstore Times. With a well-cast ensemble and a tightly written script, Mike Vogel’s March Madness makes for an entertaining experience that will have you rooting for the underdogs.
(March Madness plays at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, 312 West 36 Street, through November 18, 2012. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7PM; Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 2PM. Tickets are $25. For tickets, call 212-868-2055 or visit www.abingdontheatre.org.)