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Theater Review: 'Assistance' -- 3 stars

Lucas Near-Verbrugghe as Vince and Michael Esper as

Lucas Near-Verbrugghe as Vince and Michael Esper as Nick in "Assistance." (Joan Marcus) Credit: Lucas Near-Verbrugghe as Vince and Michael Esper as Nick in "Assistance." (Joan Marcus)

Assistance
3 stars

Anyone who's ever had a demanding, insulting, micromanaging, perhaps even psychotic boss can relate to the young, overworked, emotionally abused assistants in Leslye Headland's absolutely hilarious and unexpectedly exhilarating new satire, "Assistance."

The 90-minute play takes place in the messy, ugly antechamber just outside the office of Daniel Weisinger, which contains desks and phones for several hardworking assistants in their mid- to late 20s.

Although Weisinger's line of business is never revealed, it is worth noting that Headland formerly worked as an assistant to movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

As the play begins, the innocent, well-dressed Nora (Virginia Kull) is about to begin her new job. First-rung assistant Nick (Michael Esper), who is far more laid-back in appearance and behavior, conveys to her that dealing with their boss is a high-stress, humiliating ordeal with the intensity of air-traffic controlling.

"Working for Daniel is like living the last 30 minutes of 'Goodfellas' over and over again," Nick explains to Nora. "Every day is the day you're coked out of your mind and you've got a million things to do and everything that could go wrong does go wrong."

Two years later, Nora is chain-smoking, coffee-addicted and on the verge of hysteria, and Nick's career seems to be going nowhere. On the plus side, they still manage to relieve their stress with some casual sex in Daniel's office.

Newer assistants include Heather (Sue Jean Kim), who is fired after asking for a day off to attend her uncle's funeral; Justin (Bobby Steggert), whose foot is run over by Daniel's car; and Jenny (Amy Rosoff), a snooty Brit who believes that she will be bigger than Daniel someday.

The ending is absurd but fascinating. After Nora has a nervous breakdown and quits, Jenny performs a drunken, joyous, chaotic tap-dance, during which the entire set falls apart into destruction.

Trip Cullman's production is marked by impeccable comic timing. While the entire cast is exceptional, Esper and Kull have terrific sexual chemistry and play off each other to perfection.


If you go: "Assistance" plays at Playwrights Horizons through March 11. 416 W. 42nd St., 212-279-4200, playwrightshorizons.org.

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