Section: Arts

KCDC satirizes toxic work culture in the play Assistance

KCDC satirizes toxic work culture in the play Assistance

From left to right: Farrell, van Overbeeke-Costello, Borghesani, Teitelbaum, Doull and Santalucia | COURTESY OF AMANDA KUO

The lights dimmed in the Bolton Theater, illuminating the name “Weisinger” above the stage. On Feb. 1, Kenyon College Dance, Drama & Cinema Club (KCDC) staged Assistance, a comedic play written by Leslye Headland about six assistants dealing with the burden of working for a ruthless boss. Although he never appears in the play, the character of Daniel Weisinger (based on infamous producer Harvey Weinstein, for whom Headland had interned) remains a dominating force, as his assistants struggle to maintain their sanity in the face of his continuous torment. Director Wendy MacLeod, Kenyon’s James Michael Playwright-in-Residence and Professor of Drama, told the Collegian, “This play asks ‘what is success?’ and it asks what we’re willing to do to get it.”

In a small office in downtown Manhattan, Nick, played by Jack Teitelbaum ’24 and Vince, played by Orlando Doull ’25, celebrate Vince’s promotion from assistant to director. Nick is also striving to move up the power ladder in Weisinger’s company and train a new assistant to replace him. In walks the new trainee, Nora, played by Iris Santalucia ’26, who perfectly embodies the hope and exuberance of an ambitious young woman eager to start her dream job. Nick is taken aback by Nora’s sincere admiration for Weisinger, as she doesn’t have the slightest clue of what she is in for: a perpetual cycle of humiliation and disappointment. 

The scenes in the play perfectly mimic the pace of a chaotic office job: One minute the assistants have time to discuss their lives and suddenly they get a tidal wave of phone calls presenting one crisis after another. In the first scene change, a year has passed and Nora has undergone a dramatic change; she says, “Last year I was relaxed, this year it hurts to pee.” She’s caught up in an office romance with Nick and completely loathes Weisenberg, but still aspires to reach his level of success. Santalucia authentically captures how the job gradually corrupts Nora and irreparably diminishes her initial feelings of enthusiasm. Reflecting on her character work, Santalucia told the Collegian, “The sense of losing oneself is something that I can understand so basically it’s manifesting that same feeling in different characters.” 

The play’s success was the product of a passionate and cohesive cast, led by MacLeod. “I was very lucky to have this particular group of actors who are talented, brave, well-trained and delightful to work with,” MacLeod said. Her directing approach provided the actors with a framework to execute Headland’s creative vision while giving them enough space to build their own characters. 

All six cast members showcased a wide range of emotional depth in their characters and uniquely demonstrated how ambition can erode one’s humanity. One standout comedic performance was from MJ Farrell ’24, who played the assistant, Justin. The audience laughed as Justin was on the phone with his therapist, blaming himself for Weisinger running over his foot with his car. Another memorable monologue was delivered by Maya van Overbeeke-Costello ’25 as the gawky assistant, Heather, who was fired for missing work to attend her uncle’s funeral. She feels completely bitter and aimless in the midst of losing a job that her life so intensely revolved around. Van Overbeeke-Costello’s acting beautifully conveys how, for Weisinger’s assistants, the only thing worse than having the job is losing it.

The final scene features the assistant Jenny, played by Liza Borghesani ’24, stumbling into the office after an all-night bender with a martini and a misbuttoned shirt. Blasting music, Borghesani hilariously concludes the production, cursing and dancing the night away until the sun rises and the phones start ringing. 

The production leaves the audience grappling with the same dilemma as the assistants: Is the job worth it? The play ends somewhat abruptly with no clear path to success in sight for any of the characters, reflecting a harsh and cynical reality. MacLeod sums it up beautifully: “We end on an ambitious woman vowing to be more successful than her terrible boss, and we’re torn between rooting for her and wondering if she will become equally monstrous.”

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