It’s funny how the process of problem-solving can become its own problem. At least that’s what occurred to playwright Aaron Loeb as his new work came together in the form of “Ideation,” which opens at Capital Stage on Saturday.
The Berkeley-based Loeb has become a nationally recognized playwright while “moonlighting” from his day job in the video game industry. His play “First Person Shooter,” which Capital Stage produced in 2008, dealt with the intimate personal aftermath of a mass school shooting that is partly blamed on a violent video game.
Loeb is senior vice president of North American studios for Kabam, a leader in free-to-play video games. Loeb has had his own progressive video game company, and he worked for the industry giant Electronic Arts, commonly known as EA.
The corporate workplace provides the setting for “Ideation,” which is part black comedy and part psychological thriller. The play won the 2014 Glickman Award for best new Bay Area play. It was inspired by Loeb’s tenure at EA when he was partnered with several former big-time management consultants.
“This group was filled with folks from ECG, Bain, McKenzie, and I loved the way they talked. It was a different language, ” Loeb said from Vancouver, where he had just attended a Kabam launch party for a game based on Marvel comic-book characters.
“I really enjoyed the way that you could put almost any problem in front of them, and they would start relentlessly problem-solving it, breaking it down into its component parts,” he said.
Those sessions melded in Loeb’s mind with conversations he was having with his wife – a human rights attorney who focuses on torture and genocide. She was working on a case against the defense minister of Somalia. “Ideation” focuses on corporate consultants working on an ethically ambiguous project.
In the business world “ideation” has become a buzzword connected with brainstorming. “Coming up with ideas, you have an ideation process,” Loeb said. “In general the rules are you’re not allowed to say no immediately. The notion of the ideation phase is that no idea is bad.”
Loeb has observed that brainstorming is a specific skill not every one has.
“Some people can’t turn off either their internal or external critic. They immediately go to problem-solving, or they immediately go to edge cases (an extreme situation), and it makes them really unpleasant partners in brainstorming,” he said.
In “Ideation” the brainstorming team is lead by Jason Kuykendall’s Brock. The team includes Jimmy Sidhu as Sandeep, Russell Dow as Scooter and Peter Mohrmann as Ted. The group has an unexpected addition with Carrie Paff’s Hannah, who is Brock’s boss.
Director Michael Stevenson’s ensemble had never worked together before but the production has forced them to pull together.
“There’s so much work to do I don’t really have to time to build the ensemble,” Stevenson said. “It has to come about through our shared pursuit of the goal. Trying to execute that task and solve the play, generally the actors bond together.”
Stevenson knew Paff from the 2011 Aurora Theatre production of Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance,” which she performed in with his wife, Jamie Jones.
Paff has been with the play since its early readings and played Hannah in the SF Playhouse world premiere last year.
“She’s created this role,” Loeb said of Paff. “I think it’s going to be really interesting for her and really interesting for me.”
Loeb has continued working on the play, thinking he could improve it even though it’s had some success. He’s tweaked several bits for the Sacramento production and has taken out some material he didn’t think worked. He called that process “agonizing.”
“It is a controversial cut with some of the folks who’ve been working with me on the play for a long time,” he said.
“The first production particularly is the one where I’m learning everything about the play, and the second and third productions are incredible opportunities because you get to see a new artistic team try new things,” Loeb said.
“It’s the truest gift that other collaborators give the playwright,” he said. “Every time you get to see these amazing talented people – be they college students where this is the first play they’ve ever been in or brilliant professional actors like Carrie. They’re giving you this incredible insight into the work you’ve done. They’ve taken it out of your hands and showed it back to you, and it’s wonderful every time.”
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.
What: Aaron Loeb’s black comedy/psychological thriller. Directed by Michael Stevenson.
Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento
When: Previews: 8 p.m. today-Friday; opening, 8 p.m. Saturday; continues Wednesday-Sunday through Feb. 22
Information: (916) 995-5464; capstage.org