Compass Theatre makes a sharp debut with What We're Up Against | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Compass Theatre makes a sharp debut with What We're Up Against

How much has really changed for women in the workplace since 1992?


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Theresa Rebeck's acidic portrait of workplace discrimination, written in 1992 in the wake of the Anita Hill hearings, is still timely. That's probably good news for Rebeck. But it's definitely bad news for women, who are still dragged as ambitious ballbusters if they dare to do things men do (such as run for president).

Compass Theatre, a new Equity company making its debut with Rebeck's play, staged by Lauren Shouse, lands plenty of sharp jabs to the solar plexus. Rebeck shows how often women are undercut not by obvious sexual harassment, but by pernicious microaggressions and gaslighting.

Set in an architecture firm, the play opens with Stu (Charlie Strater) and Ben (Ted James) tossing back scotch and complaining about new hire Eliza (Echaka Agba)—who they assume landed the job by sleeping with a higher-up and who complains about not being given any real work to do. "Women are always just a total fucking nightmare," Stu declares—and Ben agrees.

As Eliza tries and fails to enlist the help of Janice (Denise Hoeflich), the only other woman architect, Rebeck cleverly anatomizes the divide-and-conquer mind-set of internalized misogyny. In Weber (Jeff Kurysz), the hotshot hired after Eliza, she also creates a perfect snapshot of every mediocre bullshitting "visionary" man who believes "mingy" detail work is beneath him but might be just fine for women. Sometimes Rebeck's narrative flirts with being preachy, but for the most part it's funny and enraging in all the right ways.   v

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