Longtime husband and wife producing team Tom Ormeny and Maria Gobetti have a keen intuition when it comes to scouting worthy new plays — a gift that has been honed over their 39 years in residence at the Victory Theatre in Burbank.
Judith Leora’s “Showpony,” the latest in the Victory’s impressive lineup of world premieres, is no exception to that winning formula. Although Leora’s new work may be guilty of some short cuts, long cuts and over-simplifications, it’s rollicking entertainment that addresses the current political climate from a fiercely feminist perspective.
The action opens as five women convene in an advertising agency conference room to redesign a pitch (for stiletto heels — the fashion world’s answer to bound feet, as Leora mordantly points out.) Three of the new hires are African American women from a small “urban” company. Of those, Patricia (Elle Vernee) is a warm-hearted church lady who has just bought a house on the guarantee that she’ll be in her new job long term (and good luck to her with that.) Omolola (Krystel Roche) is an advertising intern from Nigeria who is comically fascinated by the political machinations of her American counterparts. Sharp-witted Destiny (Bianca Lemaire) assumes she’s headed for the executive suite, but may be in for a shock.
The other women, Tara (Sionne Elise) and Sam (Lizzy Kimball), are longer-term employees — but whereas Tara is a beautiful, eager-to-please “show pony” who constantly abases herself in a vain effort to please her exacting boss, Walker (Marshall McCabe), Sam is a bitter antagonist who never passes up an opportunity to rabble-rouse. Both are Caucasian — and that’s not incidental: Their race will factor into Leora’s complicated, character-driven plot.
Of course, as we — and they — soon learn, the deck is stacked against them. Walker and his old-boy ilk hold sway in the upper echelons of this hierarchy and aren’t about to relinquish their power any time soon.
There are obvious flaws. Act 2, when we first meet Walker, spends too much time on the coy, not-quite-romance between Walker and Destiny. And the familiar trope that the unwittingly racist Tara was raised in a trailer park seems almost dangerously dismissive of the fact that racism that can be found at every level of society.
Fortunately, after a stumble or two, the play resumes its comic momentum, with plenty of female bickering and bonding that always amuses and never descends to the level of schmaltz.
The show’s excellent technical elements — including Evan Bartoletti’s set, Carol Doehring’s lighting, David Duarte’s sound and Lauri Fitzsimmons’ stylishly glitzy costumes — provide the unobtrusive backdrop for a gem of a show. But the real standout is Ormeny’s slam-bang, briskly calibrated staging. Ormeny melds his gifted performers into an impressively organic ensemble, a sort of extended family that is richly believable on every level. The actors’ beautifully realized characters are workplace warriors who keep us entertained — and moved — as they struggle to win a rigged game.
Where: Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 18
Info: (818) 841-5421, www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org
Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes