Angst. Jealousy. Introspection. Betrayal. These are all emotions that could potentially arise when two cohabitating best friends interview for the same job and only one gets it. Unfortunately, none of these feelings ever make it to the surface with very much vigor in John Krizel’s new play The Program Assistant, a piece about #postgradlife (his hashtag, not mine) in DC that fails to interrogate or satirize its characters or examine their role in their own unhappiness.
Charlie (Abigail Casey) and Laura (Katie Ryan) recently graduated from George Washington University and have just moved into their first “big-girl apartment.” Charlie, we’re told, is the “feisty” one (though she never shows any real bite, and on the off-chance she approaches it, she immediately offers up an apology), while Laura is the “put-together” one. That’s about as much as we learn about them as people.
Each is looking for her first real job—Charlie’s parents have given her a wildly optimistic three-week time period to find one. When they both apply for the same position as a program assistant at the State Department, Laura gets it, despite Charlie having more experience (it’s never explained why), and Charlie’s forced to take a job as a waitress.
This should be a recipe for some serious conflict and bitchy back-and-forth, but it seems as though Krizel is afraid of making either of his protagonists the least bit unlikeable. Instead, the two young women fall all over each other congratulating the other and then immediately slip into self-pity mode. One of the problems here is that the stakes are so low. The biggest driver behind Charlie’s job search is that her parents would like her to get off of their health insurance eventually.
There’s also a striking lack of self-awareness on display. This is actually realistic of your typical 23-year-old, but instead of having the rest of the characters provide some crucial perspective, they only feed into the protagonists’—Laura’s, in particular—narcissism. When Laura is outraged and heartbroken that she gets passed over for a promotion after working in her current role for less than six months, during which she herself admits she’s done nothing worthwhile, she’s comforted with phrases like, “That place sounds terrible.”
The Program Assistant
by John Krizel
at Redrum – Fort Fringe
610 L Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
A major challenge the production faces is its format. The play is broken up into very, very small vignettes—some literally only a line or two long—interspersed with blackouts for scene changes. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that there’s about as much blackout time as actual play. This makes it extremely difficult for the cast to keep the energy up and the audience to become engaged.
The brightest spots of the night are any time Rachel (Amanda Spellman) is on stage. As the brash mutual friend, her genuine rage and pettiness seem to be, by far ,the most authentic emotions on display.
Ultimately, it appears that John Krizel’s script is meant to add a counterpoint to all of the harsh think-pieces written about the entitled worthlessness of Millennials, but instead winds up simply reifying these notions. The audience laughed at well-known DC references, but for the most part, The Program Assistant takes itself way too seriously.