Theater review: ‘Survival Exercise’ at Elephant Space Theatre

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Make-or-break PowerPoints, backstabbing power plays, toxic recycled air, and, of course, co-worker sexcapades – in short, just another day at the office in ‘Survival Exercise’ at Hollywood’s Elephant Space.

A quartet of career-obsessed workaholics do battle with their inner demons in Don Ponturo’s satirical swipe at corporate disillusionment. They represent a familiar generational cross-section of shifting alliances and betrayals: Veteran unit manager Mason (Mark Sande) sullenly battles the office politics that will inevitably put him out to pasture, while his sometimes-lover, maturing office hottie Sharon (Cheryl Bricker), still parades in too-short skirts trying to wield influence through her fading looks. On the up-and-coming side are whiz kid Andrew (Michael Sweeney) and ruthlessly ambitious Susan (Michelle Murphy), who wants to ride his coattails up the corporate ladder.

In following the foursome through their neurotic prep for a critical presentation to the higher-ups, then to an off-site ‘team-building’ seminar, and finally to an after-hours confessional confrontation back in the office, Ponturo’s script scores some hits, but coasts far too much on generic workplace tropes. The lack of specificity suggests limited familiarity with the environment the piece is trying to represent, and too often plays like an inflated comedy sketch. This office isn’t ‘The Office.’

Nevertheless, director Duane Daniels and his very sharp cast employ exemplary stagecraft to work minor miracles with problematic material, whether machine-gunning their way through corporate-speak banalities (accompanied with nonsensical chalkboard diagrams), or delivering amusingly quirky line readings that enliven abstract characters and dialogue. A particularly inspired staging moment brings visual coherence to an otherwise elliptical exchange involving keys and credit cards.


Even in the play’s still-underdeveloped form, well-played emotional beats make a truthful cautionary point about the seductive dangers of letting a job take the place of a real life.

– Philip Brandes

‘Survival Exercise.’ Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 2. $15-20. (323) 960-7776 or Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.