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Eerie parallels to today's workplace pressures, moral choices in '50s Serling work

Eerie parallels to today's workplace pressures, moral choices in '50s Serling work
A fast-rising executive (Daniel Kaemon, left) faces an ethical conflict between his career ambitions and his loyalty to his boss (James Schendel), a fading relic of a more benevolent corporate era. (Ed Krieger)

Submitted for your approval: Mr. Fred Staples, early 30s, a rising executive whose vaulting ambition o'erleaps itself in a cautionary tale of corporate ladders and moral compromise that will prove eerily prescient 60 years later.

That tale is "Patterns," which began as the 1955 teleplay that launched the television career of one Rod Serling and still resonates in a handsome stage adaptation from Beverly Hills-based Theatre 40.

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The play, adapted by James Reach in 1959, preserves Serling's vividly sketched characters, efficient plotline, and probing ethical quandaries.

Wrestling with those quandaries is the talented Mr. Staples (Daniel Kaemon), newly installed in the literal and metaphorical top floor suite of the Ramsey Corporation — exuding superb period look and feel in a multi-office set by Jeff G. Rack and Michèle Young's vintage costumes.

He quickly finds himself trapped in its Byzantine office politics. Tyrannical, profit-driven president Ramsey (a suitably icy Richard Hoyt Miller) has no sympathy for the human values advocated by aging Andy Sloane (James Schendel), a genial, Willy Loman-esque relic of the firm's original management team and its more benevolent paternalistic culture.

Caught in the middle, Staples partners with Andy in the naïve hope that focusing on their work can ease the friction but soon realizes he's the pawn in Ramsey's ploy to push Andy out the door — a strategy abetted by Staples' own spouse (Savannah Schoenecker, a fine Lady Macbeth reincarnated as a 1950s housewife).

Foreshadowing the kind of twist that would become a Serling signature, the seemingly clear-cut narrative trajectory gets upended in a final philosophical debate, with an unexpected resolution.

Despite some stilted dialogue along the way, the skillful staging by Jules Aaron connects the play's message to the anxieties and merciless calculus of today's workplace.

"Patterns," Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 23. $30. (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.org. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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