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Hold Please

Presented by Working Theater, casting by Vince Liebhart/Tom Alberg, at the Blue Heron Arts Center, 123 E. 24 St., NYC, Feb. 28-March 30.

The Working Theater, whose self-proclaimed mission is to create "meaningful theatre about working people," takes a look at today's nine-to-five office life of secretaries—or assistants, as they are now known—in Annie Weisman's highly entertaining "Hold Please."

The show's particular raison d'être is a cynical examination of the impact of the feminist movement on this workaday world, with a crusade mentality walking in lockstep with the more mundane tasks of the office, such as answering the phone. Thus, the play's four women get together for "heart talks," where they express their feelings, not opinions; ponder possible sexual harassment actions against male executives they don't like; and in general fight for their "right to an appropriate professional environment." All of this comes to naught when a new female efficiency expert comes on board and finds most of the group to be redundant, while the one remaining employed is the young seductress who has used her traditional feminine wiles for survival.

Weisman's plot twists are sometimes hard to swallow, but her characterizations, pitting two younger workers against two veterans of the dictation pad, are razor-sharp, as are her depiction of the workplace and smart dialogue. A crackerjack cast, under Connie Grappo's knowing direction, brings the script stunningly to life. Laura Esterman is officiously vulnerable as the leader of the pack, letting us see a woman whose desperate sense of control is made up solely of thin ice. Kathryn Rossetter is determinedly charming as her experienced colleague, while Emma Bowers is disturbingly convincing as a snaky schemer disguised as victim. Jeanine Serralles is totally on target as an enthusiastic but unfocused ditz.

James Youmans' sleekly cubicled set and Ilona Somagyi's costumes wrap up the production with designs that look discomfortingly authentic.

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