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THEATER REVIEW : No Payoff in 'Cost of Doing Business'

October 01, 1993|JAN BRESLAUER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mark Haskell Smith has not, despite what the press releases say, written a play about "racism, feminism and class conflict." In fact, "The Cost of Doing Business" at the MET is the kind of superficial, self-congratulatory puff that gives stage liberalism a bad name.

Set in a Brooklyn factory, "The Cost of Doing Business" pits such stock characters as a coke-snorting boss, a dumbo receptionist and a couple of good-but-angry African-American warehouse workers against one another. The humor's low-grade sitcom. But that's not the worst offense.

Even the strong ensemble cast and the nicely detailed realistic set can't defuse Haskell's Neanderthalisms. A running gag about a yeast infection, for example, does about as much for the play's dignity as, say, the 50 too many times one character offers his theories about large-breasted women. (He uses a different word, natch.) And then there's the cat fight between the receptionist and the stripper. . . .

The pat black-vs.-white conflicts are also hopelessly dated. When the magic $1.5-million check that lets the good black guy buy the factory arrives in the mail, it gives hope not just to the characters, but to the audience as well. You figure at least the play's got to end soon.

\o7 * "The Cost of Doing Business," MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood, (213) 957-1152. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 31. $15. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.\f7

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