- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

Had it up to here with corporate bailouts? Enjoy some vicarious revenge with “Fever Dream,” Sheila Callaghan’s fiendishly funny skewering of corporate culture, a world premiere production at Woolly Mammoth directed with a high yield of laughs and style by artistic director Howard Shalwitz.

The play updates Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s 1635 “Life Is a Dream,” moving the setting from an allegorical Spanish kingdom to modern-day Manhattan - rendered with “Metropolis”-like futuristic flourishes (including a corporate blimp that floats languidly by from time to time) by set designer Misha Kachman. The plot follows Calderon’s masterwork, where a king imprisons his son Segismundo from birth after it has been foretold he will ruin the country. When the son becomes a man, the king frees him and allows him to become heir. But the prince makes a royal mess and is whisked back to prison and told it was all a dream.

In “Fever Dream,” the prince is renamed Segis (Daniel Eichner) and is confined to the most dastardly of corporate hells: customer service. While he languishes in the basement - literally - of Basil Enterprises, on the 77th floor his father Bill Basil (Drew Eshelman) lords over a billion-dollar empire and watches with detached amusement as his CEO Aston Marton (KenYatta Rogers) and CFO Stella Strong (Kate Eastwood Norris) duke it out for supremacy. They may compete in the boardroom but are collaborators in the bedroom. In one scene, Aston woos Stella with romantic poetry tapped out in hilariously truncated text-speak on their BlackBerrys.

Then, the tycoon decides to let Segis run the Fortune 500 company, and despite a succession of blunders, Segis manages to shake things up in his short time at the top. He scores big brownie points with the company’s young associates - a phalanx of bored cubicle jockeys (played by an agile troupe of acting students from the University of Maryland) who while away the workday blogging and visiting Web sites.

The office supply and sexual harassment jokes may not be up-to-the-minute, but the details of “Fever Dream” are impeccably rendered from the cheesy karaoke machine at the office party and the unreliable elevators to the barrages of e-mails, Tweets , memos and stock tickers that make up corporate life.

The cast keeps up the antic pace required for this brand of satiric comedy, and they find fresh ways with stock characters - notably Jessica Frances Dukes as an overeager and underappreciated temp, Kimberly Gilbert, seething with anger and vulnerability as a business saboteur, and Michael Willis as the infinitely patient office manager.

“Fever Dream” isn’t novel in its treatment of mega-corporations, office drones and ruthless executives. “Brazil,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Wall Street” and “The Office” all got there before. But the wit of Miss Callaghan’s dialogue is so delightfully on-target and the performances so fearlessly over-the-top that the material seems reinvented.

….

WHAT: “Fever Dream” by Sheila Callaghan

WHERE: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through June 28.

TICKETS: $15 to $60

PHONE: 202/393-3939

WEB SITE: www.woollymammoth.net

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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