Playwright Judith Leora’s “Showpony,” the trenchant comedy enjoying its world premiere run at Burbank’s Little Victory Theatre, takes a laugh-out-loud look at workplace gender and racial discrimination—funny as can be unless, of course, you’re on the receiving end.
Having just bought out a boutique, black woman-owned ad agency, a glitzy New York City agency prepares for an important pitch to a women’s wear client in Miami.
Before heading to Florida, the account team calls an emergency meeting for last-minute ad modifications, but none of the male managers show up. Without the men, modifying the pitch for stilettoes and handbags is easy peasy work for the five talented women.
But as these new officemates work together, tensions arise, especially when coke-snorting, insult-spewing Sam (Lizzy Kimball) mercilessly needles Tara (Sionne Elise), calling her a “show pony” who is all too eager to please their absent male boss, Walker (Marshall McCabe).
Joining these two white women are three African American women, brought onboard in the boutique agency buyout. Patricia (Elle Vernee), a long-term office manager and proud new homeowner feels blessed to have landed on her feet with a fancy new job at this late stage in her career. Just starting out, Omolola (Krystel Roche), a West Indian intern, is new to the advertising world—and to American ways and office politics. And Destiny (Victoria Grant), exuding confidence and competence in an all-business-all-the-time suit, seems bound for bigger things.
Just getting to know each other, they spiral into a heated exchange on intersectionality, office pecking order, and the glass ceiling in a sharp-elbowed examination of workplace discrimination that culminates in a teary food fight. Hair-on-fire Sam, who’s been with the company since time began, endlessly stirs the pot, letting on that the buyout was just a strategic move to exploit new markets. Compton and The Bronx are mentioned, in case you didn’t catch the drift.
Showpony masterfully captures the essence of the “rub” that exists in the workplace, sometimes just below the surface, other times in plain view, in companies big and small across this nation.
Moving to his chintzy Miami hotel room as the second act opens, Walker nervously waits to learn of the ad pitch’s success or failure. Suffice to say, as the women join him individually and in groups, poor Walker has many lessons to learn about racism and sexism and the advisability of office romance.
Leora masterfully captures the essence of the “rub” that exists in the workplace, sometimes just below the surface, other times in plain view, in companies big and small across this nation.
A lot of us have been there and done that in offices like these—with the sometimes hidden racial biases, the sexual intrigue, and, yes, the older white male boss pressing romance, or something like it, on a younger female staff member.
Or maybe, as “Showpony” proposes, some of us know these currents all too well and some of us—likely the white males of a certain age and station among us—are utterly oblivious that anything is amiss.
Knowing nods were exchanged between many audience members, but some, such as Sharon, know these issues especially well:
Showpony was written to put a spotlight on the affects of white male supremacy at the workplace. The women live with blatant employment discrimination, an old boys’ club, racism—and even a suggestion of police misconduct is woven into the plot line. But Leora’s ability to incorporate humor onto this difficult plane make it easier to fully invest in—like Mary Poppins would say, “a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.” This play offers a kind of medicine that makes it one of the best I’ve seen on this topic.
The title conveys the thread that holds the plot together. As Sam accuses Tara of being a “show pony,” she adds that the white women in the company know they are not on equal footing with the white men but they tacitly agree to prance around like show ponies as long as they’re safely positioned above the blacks in pecking order.
As a Black woman who worked in a white male-dominated environment (NASA/JPL) for most of my adult life, I can attest to this play’s accuracy in depicting the tension that exists in an environment where the racial and gender hierarchy is on full display. Several scenes were so reminiscent of actual experiences I’ve had working at NASA/JPL that it seemed the writer had to have been there. This is a must-see play.
Staged by long-time Victory Theatre partners Maria Gobetti and Tom Ormeny, “Show Pony” is an immensely pleasing, thought-provoking work of art, from Leora’s multi-layered story to the uniformly superbly-acted roles to Ormeny’s fast-moving staging to Evan Bartoletti’s set, Carol Doehring’s lighting, David Duarte’s sound, and Lauri Fitzsimmons’ stylish costumes. Don’t miss it.
Dick Price & Sharon Kyle
Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank
8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 18
Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes