The four secretaries who are the characters in Hold Please, the Women's Theatre Project's current comedy, work in drearily uninspiring confines. We see their paltry break room and its minifridge, their small desks littered with stuffed animals and figurines. We see them hoard half-and-half and steal one another's Nutter Butters. We see them carry out tasks such as ordering Mont Blanc pens, fetching coffee, and answering the phone all day with one word: "SolomanXavierSanbornSachs." But don't think these women are powerless. The story opens with the punishment of one of the male partners by way of the sexual harassment policy. The charges are bogus, orchestrated by one of our four secretaries, but the man is fired anyway. Hold Please is a wicked delight not because of its post-feminist observations but because playwright Annie Weisman provides a deliciously dark caricature of the workplace. The four women make big speeches about fairness and respect, but they understand little of what they're saying. Their cluelessness is where the fun comes in. Anybody who has worked in an office will revel in the pettiness and backstabbing. We know these characters. They antagonize one another, but at the same time, they seem to love to hate one another. Watching it all play out is the play's joy. The challenge for director Genie Croft and the four players is in the comic timing that is this play's lifeblood. Mostly, the cast nails it; the rest of the time, it's close enough. One flaw in the script is that the exaggerated characters can't find their footing for some of the serious, softer moments. The temptation must have been to tone down the over-the-top characters. But the performers let it rip and go for the laughs. Good choice. (Through June 26 at the Studio, 640 N. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-462-2334.)
A Bad Friend: Jules Feiffer's memory play about Brooklyn in the 1950s resounds as a cautionary tale for the United States in the 21st Century. This terrific production, directed by Joseph Adler, is ambitious and intimate, a provocative series of family snapshots that evokes the history of an era. It's about McCarthyism, the Hollywood blacklist, lost illusions, and regained hope. It's about a young girl's coming of age and perhaps about a nation's losing its way. Written in 2003, the story is fitting for a time when the extreme right is playing on people's fears and hatreds, narrowly redefining patriotism as evangelical zeal in full flower, banishing responsible dissent ruthlessly, and challenging every dissenter's patriotism in ways that make McCarthy's despicable antics of the '50s seem positively tame. Starring Avi Hoffman, Lauren Feldman, Tracey Moore, Andy Quiroga, Kevin Reilley, and Nick Velkov. (Through June 26 at GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables. Call 305-446-1116.)
The Last Session overcomes an uninspired, predictable story line with solid songs and a vibrant production. Originally staged off-Broadway in 1997, it tells the story of Gideon (Gary Waldman), a singer/songwriter who's given up his fight with AIDS. All that's left to do is down a shot glass full of pills and finish an unconventional suicide note, a musical recording to be left to his partner, Jack. This is one day in a Los Angeles recording studio with Gideon and his not-clued-in friends creating his final work. But wait! There's the X factor. An absent singer is replaced by Buddy (Dean Swann), a country-comes-to-town Baptist who -- like every off-the-shelf Bible thumper -- is uncomfortable with homosexuals and can't see shades of gray. There's a handful of unoriginal exchanges about what is truly sin and whether anybody can judge anybody else. Just when things can't seem to get more banal, Buddy and Gideon find common ground and, aw shucks, the suicide plan becomes less certain. Some laughs are had with Buddy's naiveté, but the best lines come from Tryshia's (Lyrehc Jordan) and Vicki's (Jeanne Lynn Gray) steady bickering. The play's obvious strength lies in Steve Schalchlin's gospel-pop blended songs, which are in good hands. (Through June 19 at Hollywood Playhouse, 2640 Washington St., Hollywood. Call 800-655-1773.)
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