Leslye Headland is on a serious roll, generating buzz in theatre, film and TV. Assistance, slotted for TV adaptation at NBC, leaves audiences in stitches. The film adaptation of her critically-acclaimed play Bachelorette premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The film, which Leslye directed, was hailed by the New York Times as “viciously funny satire…with the crackling intensity of machine-gun fire.” Bachelorette received wide release in September and is currently available to rent.
Like Assistance, Bachelorette belongs to Leslye’s Seven Deadly Sins series; the former treats greed, the latter gluttony. Both plays take an unflinching look at Millennials, treating Leslye’s generation with her signature snark. Bachelorette follows a trio of single women (played by Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan) as they grudgingly play bridesmaids to their overweight friend, Becky (Rebel Wilson). The women arrange an epic bacchanal for Becky’s bachelorette party, but queen bee Regan (Kirsten Dunst) can’t resist instructing the male stripper to call Becky by her high school nickname – Pigface. Old tensions flare, spurring a series of events that includes the ripping of Becky’s wedding dress.
Earlier this week, METRO published an article about our current production of Assistance by Leslye Headland. In the article, actor Kate Czajkowski describes her own experience working for a horrible boss in a knick-knack shop:
"He would berate those of us who worked there on a regular basis. Our paychecks were constantly bouncing and he was a total jerk to us, so it was pretty frequent that he would lose it on someone and they would walk out the door grabbing a couple things on their way. Most of us left that place with a really amazing sugar bowl."
Horrible bosses, or “Bosszillas,” have been a wellspring for comic fodder. Consider Meryl Streep’s vicious Miranda Priestly in the Devil Wears Prada or the more self-serving and wildly inappropriate David Brent, played by Ricky Gervais the UK television series The Office.
Whispers and rumors of real-life Bosszillas feed the gossip mill of corporate America, and for a ‘can-it-be-true?’ laugh, we wanted to share some of our favorite Bosszilla lore.
In the 1950s, this office-based knowledge worker was “The Organization Man” or “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit,” as two best sellers of the period named him. In the 1960s, the next generation became the ubiquitous “junior executive,” whether with Bob Newhart’s “buttoned-down mind,” the reluctant conscience of Jack Lemmon’s “Buddy Boy” Baxter in The Apartment, or the amoral charm and WASP chutzpah of Bobby Morse’s J. Pierpont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. These men (for they were almost all men outside the steno pool) diligently filled their cubicle every day, briefcase in hand, performing tasks that were nebulous but apparently essential to the functioning of firms such as How To Succeed’s Worldwide Wicket Company. The really skillful, including the Finches of the world, could rise to the top of their enterprise. In the sort of large corporations Drucker emphasized, the price of mediocrity was plateauing somewhere in the limbo/purgatory of “middle management,” but with job security, a nice house in the suburbs, and a guaranteed pension.
The Wilma’s artistic staff was pleasantly surprised to realize that the center two plays of our season both took place in workplaces. While most of us spend a large portion of our waking lives at work, most plays give the workplace short shrift. And the two workplaces represented in Assistance and Under the Whaleback demonstrate, in vibrant verbal and theatrical form, the sea change that work has gone through in many of our lifetimes. Under the Whaleback shows the end of the 20th century industrial model. Assistance is very much of the 21st century.
In a remarkable 1995 article titled “The Age of Social Transformation,” the management guru Peter F. Drucker wrote:
No century in recorded history has experienced so many social transformations and such radical ones as the twentieth century.…In the developed free-market countries…work and work force, society and polity, are all…qualitatively and quantitatively different not only from what they were in the first years of this century but also from what has existed at any other time in history…
Leslye Headland, author of Assistance, spoke with Wilma Theater Literary/Artistic Assistant William Steinberger on Tuesday morning, October 23rd in a cab on her way to a rehearsal. This is the second installment of her interview.
Will Steinberger: Something that really excited the Wilma about the play is that it focuses on the workplace [as does the next play in the Wilma season, Richard Bean’s Under the Whaleback], and does so almost as an anthropological study.
Headland: Studs Terkel’s Working was another big jumping off point for me. In the introduction, he writes that his book, ‘being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence – to the spirit as well as to the body.’ It is about the subjugation of the human spirit. Work is not just what you do to make money or what you do to put food on the table, it’s actually an ordeal that you put yourself through and a lot of people make their work their life. They make Daniel their God or their Satan. It becomes their reason to get up in the morning. And the nature of work is fulfilling, there are a lot of fulfilling things about it – I get to do what I love doing for a living – but it’s also work. You’re putting yourself in a position to be less than and toil and I think even if you love what you do, you still have an obligation to your employer and you’re still serving someone. And that attitude of service can be one that can torture you, it can be something that you do willingly, but it’s not always the most rewarding or psychologically advancing thing.
Will: Assistance shows a workplace that has transformed into a less tangible experience over the past several decades. There’s no real product that the assistants are making. What is the personal relationship they have to the work they’re doing, to that industry, or to their boss?