Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: Paranoia and Ethics and Morals, Oh My!

We all want to do right. Whether it be in love, work, or life, we want to prove our worth by succeeding at whatever is the task at hand. But have you ever stopped to question just exactly the logistics of said task at hand? Morality and ethics are put on blast in Aaron Loeb’s conspicuously dark comedic thriller Ideation. When a group of corporate consultants are brought together to create a mysterious project for a client, they begin to question just what exactly they’re doing and who the project is really for.
Aaron Loeb’s Ideation follows junior associates Brock, Ted, and Sandeep as they return home from Crete to work on a presentation for a project they spent a month researching. When Hannah, their senior, adds herself to the team, the quartet find themselves forced to dream up a plan for mass murder. But is this project for human conservation or complete genocide? That’s the question they begin to ponder. With paranoia filling the room, Ideation is a perverse and voyeuristic attempt to question society’s morality. Loeb’s script starts off incredibly slow with a slew of corporate lingo, as we believe we are watching a drab brainstorming meeting. But as subtle clues and hints begin to surface, the consultants wonder what they’re actually doing. Are they being tested because who in their right mind can morally create a device that will destroy the human race, whether for preservation or extermination? Loeb’s examination of human ethics is a fascinating idea. He sprinkles just enough information to cast a shadow of doubt on each individual and scenario. But in the end, Ideation is like the hit sci-fi tv thriller “Lost.” So many unanswered questions when we reach the blackout. Ambiguity is always welcome but sometimes it’s unsatisfactory. And in this situation, being left to decide the answers felt like a cop out. With a room full of people running around paranoid, trying to figure out who’s aligned with whom and how to get the upper hand, Ideation is like watching reality television like “Big Brother” and “The Mole.” Though those two programs are likely more entertaining. And shockingly, more realistic. Loeb does do a great job bringing themes forward that forces you to ponder. The existential crises that the characters are caught in are varied, each representing a different vantage point. It allows for natural conflict to arise. Despite that, there is a slight evolution of character, though it mostly is a psychological change.
photo by Carol Rosegg
Captivation is essential in bringing Ideation to life. Luckily once the business exposition is done, the ensemble does a fine job keeping things interesting. The standout of the bunch is the raucously ostentatious Mark Anderson Phillips as Brock. Phillips has shades of Ed Helms on “The Office.” He uses his physical comedy to his advantage. His over-the-top nature worked to bring out the comedic elements from the darkness. The other big personality came from glorified assistant with a superiority complex, Scooter. Played with ease by Ben Euphrat, Scooter may have seldom appeared, Euphrat left you wanting more. There was a vivid intrigue in Scooter as you wanted to know just who this corporate brat was and what his true purpose was in this machine aside from being the pesky cog. As the lady with the power who cowered in fear, Carrie Paff brought confidence to the stage. Paff’s presence was notable. She made Hannah a strong woman but sadly when love got in the way, Hannah’s weakness shined through. Michael Ray Wisely as family man Ted played the moral conscience of the group. Ted seemed to be a Southern gent though Wisely went in and out of dialect. And the bigger it got, the more noticeable it became when it dropped. As Sandeep, Jason Kapoor had the most problematic part. His attendance played more like a device. Kapoor played into the drama from his first line to his melodramatic departure.
The thing about Ideation is that Loeb’s script is stylistically varied. It jumps from absurdist to melodrama to farce with a snap of the finger. Bringing it cohesively together is the job of the director. Josh Costello found a through line but it was bit jagged. The stylistic transitions, especially when it came to Sandeep, wanted to be smoothed out. Though Loeb didn’t offer answers to many of the questions he posed, we needed to believe Costello knew the answers but it didn’t seem clear that he did. From a production standpoint, Ideation was very sleek. The set by Bill English was stark yet glitzy. But one giant question that the set raised was why didn’t this conference room have a door. If the project the team was working on was so secret, wouldn’t they be fearful of other employees listening? Even if it were a pocket door, some sort of closure was desperately desired. The costumes from Abra Berman fit the traits of each character. Whether it was slick and tight for Scooter, bold and brassy for Brock, or powerful and sexy for Hannah, the costumes matched the characters well.
Ideation is likely a polarizing play in the sense of satisfaction. You may not be thrilled with the outcome or you may find it perfectly accurate to life. Either way, Aaron Loeb has forced you to feel something. But if you're looking to watch a bunch of overly paranoid people in a room, you might as well watch a reality show. “Big Brother” does offer live feeds every summer.