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Review: 'The Idea Man' at Elephant Theatre Company*

May 28, 2009 |  3:26 pm

IDEA MAN - DSC_0045

Elephant Theatre Company opens its season of world-premiere plays with “The Idea Man,” Kevin King’s timely drama about a privileged engineer who must jettison his “obsolete” morality to hang onto his job.

The head engineer at a huge industrial tool company, Frank Thompson (Robert Foster) faces a quandary when hot-headed factory grunt Al Carson (James Pippi) drops a crudely rendered schematic in the company suggestion box – a revolutionary idea that would save the company millions. Intent upon stealing Al’s idea, Frank’s rapacious boss (David Franco) orders Frank to polish up Al’s design for the big bosses, who are jetting in for the occasion.  But Frank is missing a piece of the puzzle and so goes  “underground” into Al’s blue-collar world so that he can pick Al’s brain for more answers.

At the risk of sounding alliterative, the clash of classes is classic, but the dynamic between Frank and Al is only one strand in a complex thematic skein.  The plot unravels at the end, when Al elects not to sue his company because if he did they would “crush” him.  He’s already pretty macerated by then, so that rationale seems a cheap out.

Nonetheless, the sheer philosophical scope of King’s drama is breathtaking, and director David Fofi, who helmed last season’s wonderful “Anything,” works wonders despite a few weak links in his cast.  Foster is an adequate everyman but lacks an edge of passion that would make his dilemma more poignant, and Franco, while effectively rapacious, doesn’t quite convince as a top-level corporate smoothie.  But the supporting cast is marvelous, particularly Kerry Carney as Al’s blowsy wife, Francine, who keeps her straying husband in line at the point of a loaded gun.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“The Idea Man,” Elephant Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays.  Ends June 6.  $20.  (323) 960-4410. www.plays411.com/ideaman.  Running time:  1 hour, 45 minutes.

Photo: James Pippi and Robert Foster. Credit: Lindsay Allbaugh  *[UPDATED]: An earlier version of this post included an incorrect photo and caption/credit information.

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