Playwrights’ Center

For Power Going Down playwright Christopher Busiel thought up some incompatible characters and got them stuck in an elevator for the weekend, then let them have at it. But most beginning improv classes in similar scenarios show far more imagination and sense of intrigue than Busiel does in his inane and contrived script. The most enjoyable part of the performance is the candy graciously provided by the Playwrights’ Center to liven up the evening.

Busiel’s characters, who all work at the same corporation, have just emerged from a distressing meeting when a power outage lands them in the aforementioned predicament. Trapped together are the head of the firm, Mr. Wilson, his personal secretary Donna, and three underlings, Robby, Terry, and Steve. Steve has just gotten a contract that Terry desperately wants, and this provides the play’s main plot line. By the time power is restored many secrets have been revealed, and someone has gotten killed. The inept manner in which the story unfolds (supposedly people don’t hear remarks made a foot behind them, and revealing stories begin with “I never told you about my experience . . . ?”) makes Power Going Down even more ludicrous than it sounds.

There are two bright spots in this dismal evening. One is sound designer George Sawyn’s comic elevator-music renditions of popular songs, such as “Born to Be Wild” and “Satisfaction,” juxtaposed with old elevator favorites like the Carpenters’ “Close to You.” Sawyn’s coup de grace is “Stairway to Heaven.” But unfortunately his humor is cut off with the power outage.

Rafer Weigel’s portrayal of the intelligent but wild and power-hungry Terry Smith is the other bright spot. This extremely engaging performer manages to wring some humor from lines that are often downright humiliating. This causes problems because his character is the villain of the piece, but Weigel’s talents make him the only person in the place worth watching.

Though the rest of the cast seem far beneath Weigel’s level, Busiel’s script doesn’t give them a thing to work with, either. Director George Tafelski is equally unable to wrest any life or believability from the heinous script. In fact his staging helps expose the play’s many flaws–he makes no attempt to establish privacy for the characters’ intimate scenes, nor does he make them show any caution. Set designer Michael Cole has created one of the shabbiest elevators imaginable, with imaginary doors that require the actors to go through extensive and pointless miming.