Arts & Theater

Theater review: Dark comedy ‘Ideation’ skewers consulting biz

“Ideation” at Capital Stage features, from left, Jason Kuykendall, Peter Mohrmann and Carrie Paff
“Ideation” at Capital Stage features, from left, Jason Kuykendall, Peter Mohrmann and Carrie Paff

Aaron Loeb’s tireless buzz-saw satire “Ideation,” now playing at Capital Stage, never lets up. In most dark comedies the narrative and/or the jokes run dry at some point. Not so with this savvy deconstruction of modern, big-time consulting. The Bay Area-based writer’s 95-minute play, which could be called “Consultants Gone Wild,” takes a deep breath only as the lights go down.

Loeb maintains dual careers as a nationally emerging playwright (“First Person Shooter” and “Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party”) and video game company executive and designer. His workplace experience informs his dramatic writing with casual but in-depth authority.

“Ideation” imbeds the audience in the problem-solving machinations of a highly paid brainstorming team for which the resulting consequences of their work are usually unseen abstractions. Here, the unfolding outrageousness of the job becomes hysterically matched by the relentless business-as-usual approach by the team, which is in a state of unraveling.

The three-man group is an all-star lineup of specialists led by Jason Kuykendall’s nauseatingly confident Brock, who handles organizational structures. Other members are Peter Mohrmann’s Ted, transportation expert and unassuming family man; and Jimmy Sidhu’s Sandeep, who has a Ph.D. in industrial engineering and specializes in manufacturing while still trying to earn a green card.

Carrie Paff’s dour Hannah, Brock’s boss, breaks up the boys club with an out-of-character appearance, sitting in on the meeting because of its urgent sensitive nature. Russell Dow’s Scooter, Hannah’s assistant, tries to find a seat at the table due to his sense of entitlement because his father sits on the company’s governing board.

Director Michael Stevenson smartly paces the escalating tensions as a series of comic argumentative skirmishes that never quite resolve but just spin back in growing twisted moral and ethical conundrums relating to the job. To say specifically what they are working on would ruin much of the play’s clever intrigue, but the idea seems both horrific and plausible.

The consultants turn from theoretical analysis of a distant situation to immediate looming personal catastrophes. The narrative stakes continue rising the more they maniacally realize the situation may be well beyond their understanding and control.

The ensemble is first-rate throughout, ably handling Loeb’s dense consulting-jargon-heavy dialogue in the quick back-and-forths the comedy requires. Discussions plunge down rabbit holes of “vision holders,” “hypothetical designs,” “non-fact-based suppositions” and “variable knowledge sets.”

There comes a point where Mohrmann’s exasperated Ted points out: “Saving all of humanity, logically, is a higher good than exterminating a subset of humanity is an evil.” It’s a sobering thought that is also very funny in its context.

Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.

IDEATION

What: Bay Area playwright Aaron Loeb’s black comedy about the consulting business. Directed by Michael Stevenson.

Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Feb. 22.

Tickets: $22-$38

Time: 95 minutes with no intermission

Information: (916) 995-5464; capstage.org

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