Reality TV has become ubiquitous in recent years, but what happens when things on the set get a little too real? Loft Ensemble’s world-premiere play “The Assistants” imagines the effects of a reality-TV disaster on the lives of the producers and assistants who control the show from behind the scenes.
Playwright Joel Sinensky sets up the scenario cleverly. Rather than showing the tragedy onstage, his script has Tori and Chad, assistants to reality-television producers, meet over drinks and discuss in hushed tones a dramatic event that took place on the set that morning. The details unravel over several scenes, and the writing tantalizes us with strange clues, until the whole gruesome story finally comes out about midway through the play.
But while the expository scenes building up the plot keep the audience curious, the latter half of the play meanders, with Sinensky’s writing turning formulaic in Act 2. Most scenes pair up a set of characters for a tense conversation usually leading into an unremarkable fight, and several characters’ personal breakdowns in response to the TV show tragedy are predictable. It also seems as though Sinensky couldn’t decide how to finish his story, as he leaves several loose ends. In the final scene the lights actually fade to black midway through a sentence.
Annabeth Bondor-Stone’s direction is hit-and-miss. Some scenes are staged amusingly: The episode in which two underage girls drunkenly clamber out of an apartment after an indulgent night is particularly funny. But much of the show’s pacing is too slow, and many scenes are blocked awkwardly. As a result, the actors spend much of the night wandering the stage having sluggish conversations.
Sinensky hasn’t provided much background information on his characters, but some of the actors have nevertheless developed strong personas. Jessica Botello handles production assistant Tori’s bitchy one-liners with coldness and comedic timing. “Could you leave?” she asks bluntly. “Was that rude?” she smiles. Bree Pavey, as Tori’s television producer boss Cynthia, is similarly chilly but gives nice hints of Cynthia’s human side. John Sperry Sisk is appropriately shallow as talent agent Aaron, with his embarrassing breakdown in front of his assistant Megan feeling awkward and authentic. However, Eva Bloomfield, as Megan, plays the scene too stiffly. In the role of Chad, another TV industry assistant, T. Michael Woolston struggles to find his character. As Ted, the host of the love-themed reality show, Micah Cohen is missing some sparkle. Yes, the character is grieving, but Cohen lacks the suaveness of a TV personality.
“The Assistants” earns a few laughs and gasps with its dark look at this petty workplace, but the production needs polishing before it can hope to capture audiences.
Presented by and at Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., L.A. March 23–May 5. (213) 680-0392 or www.loftensemble.com.
Critic’s Score: C+