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American Hero at Different Stages

Sandwiched between a rock and a corporate place

Lydia Lea Real, Michael Shantz, Claudette Santiago
Lydia Lea Real, Michael Shantz, Claudette Santiago

Three recruits train for a new job. Brash Jamie’s in a custody battle for her three children; timid Sheri works the night shift at El Taco but needs a day-job, too, and sleeps at most three hours in her car; cheer-leading Ted has an MBA and worked at Bank of America until let go almost a year ago.

Place

Ocean Beach Playhouse

4944 Newport Avenue, San Diego

The new job? Making sandwiches at a sub-shop franchise for $7.25 an hour. And making them, often with eight or nine ingredients, in under 20 seconds. Why? Corporate user’s guide says so (although you wonder if anyone at the home office in Denver could construct a “Toasty Torpedo” in under an hour). In effect, the three newbies move from chaos to thickets of rules: no perks, no benefits, and only one way to do the job. What’s more, their boss, who jackhammers regulations, disappears, leaving the trio to fend for themselves without guidance, supplies, or support from the higher-ups.

And in Bess Wohl’s dark comedy — make that dark-lite — American Hero, they do: they revert to the old mom-and-pop tradition with personalized creations and verge on success...until corporate finds out they’ve “gone rogue” and must pay dearly.

The play wears many hats, often several at a time: it’s an allegory about lockstep, by-the-book manipulation, a sociological study, a semi-fantasy, a sitcom.

But it’s also very funny. And the playwright makes her best points with humor. As when cynical Jamie says, “I don’t have to do anything but die and pay taxes — and the taxes are flexible.” Or when ever-optimistic Sheri, who sleeps in her car, sees the bright side: “It has an all-leather interior.”

The night I caught the Different Stages show, the cast began slowly, with muffled vocals and tentative choices, then got into the spirit of their roles. All could be quicker on the up-take (there was often “air” between exchanges of dialogue).

But each, under Kristen Fogle’s direction, met the emotional demands: Lydia Lea Real’s Jamie, at once sly and defiant; Michael Shantz’s Ted sees a silver lining even as he learns how the 99 percent must fend for themselves; Claudette Santiago’s quiet, determined Sheri who, in the end, negotiates her way out of a dead-end — and qualifies for the play’s title.

M. Keala Miles, Jr., quite effective in the Rep’s recent Disgraced, shows his versatility in multiple roles, including the Boss, bursting with disillusionment. (As an immigrant from the Middle East where he was a doctor, Miles's character in the play is marginalized as a laughingstock — it shouldn’t be.)

The lighting was often too dim, especially behind the counter, but the uncredited, orange-and-black costumes and the set, by Jerry Pilato and Bill Connard, contribute. And the multicolored menu, shouting choices across the rear wall, makes one wonder if anyone could craft anything on it in under 20 seconds. And if someone could, would anyone want to eat the result?

Playing through January 21

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Lydia Lea Real, Michael Shantz, Claudette Santiago
Lydia Lea Real, Michael Shantz, Claudette Santiago

Three recruits train for a new job. Brash Jamie’s in a custody battle for her three children; timid Sheri works the night shift at El Taco but needs a day-job, too, and sleeps at most three hours in her car; cheer-leading Ted has an MBA and worked at Bank of America until let go almost a year ago.

Place

Ocean Beach Playhouse

4944 Newport Avenue, San Diego

The new job? Making sandwiches at a sub-shop franchise for $7.25 an hour. And making them, often with eight or nine ingredients, in under 20 seconds. Why? Corporate user’s guide says so (although you wonder if anyone at the home office in Denver could construct a “Toasty Torpedo” in under an hour). In effect, the three newbies move from chaos to thickets of rules: no perks, no benefits, and only one way to do the job. What’s more, their boss, who jackhammers regulations, disappears, leaving the trio to fend for themselves without guidance, supplies, or support from the higher-ups.

And in Bess Wohl’s dark comedy — make that dark-lite — American Hero, they do: they revert to the old mom-and-pop tradition with personalized creations and verge on success...until corporate finds out they’ve “gone rogue” and must pay dearly.

The play wears many hats, often several at a time: it’s an allegory about lockstep, by-the-book manipulation, a sociological study, a semi-fantasy, a sitcom.

But it’s also very funny. And the playwright makes her best points with humor. As when cynical Jamie says, “I don’t have to do anything but die and pay taxes — and the taxes are flexible.” Or when ever-optimistic Sheri, who sleeps in her car, sees the bright side: “It has an all-leather interior.”

The night I caught the Different Stages show, the cast began slowly, with muffled vocals and tentative choices, then got into the spirit of their roles. All could be quicker on the up-take (there was often “air” between exchanges of dialogue).

But each, under Kristen Fogle’s direction, met the emotional demands: Lydia Lea Real’s Jamie, at once sly and defiant; Michael Shantz’s Ted sees a silver lining even as he learns how the 99 percent must fend for themselves; Claudette Santiago’s quiet, determined Sheri who, in the end, negotiates her way out of a dead-end — and qualifies for the play’s title.

M. Keala Miles, Jr., quite effective in the Rep’s recent Disgraced, shows his versatility in multiple roles, including the Boss, bursting with disillusionment. (As an immigrant from the Middle East where he was a doctor, Miles's character in the play is marginalized as a laughingstock — it shouldn’t be.)

The lighting was often too dim, especially behind the counter, but the uncredited, orange-and-black costumes and the set, by Jerry Pilato and Bill Connard, contribute. And the multicolored menu, shouting choices across the rear wall, makes one wonder if anyone could craft anything on it in under 20 seconds. And if someone could, would anyone want to eat the result?

Playing through January 21

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