Theresa Rebeck uses comedy to tackle workplace sexism 

Playwright Theresa Rebeck is known for hilarious material, even though her subject matter actually can be quite serious.

For example, “What We’re Up Against,” the world premiere opening at the Magic Theatre this week and directed by Magic maverick Loretta Greco, promises to be a laugh-out-loud comedy about “men, women and survival in the workplace.”

Rod Knapp, James Wagner, Pamela Gaye Walker and Sarah Nealis make up the cast.

“We had done a reading of a shorter version of the play in 1992,” Rebeck says, adding that Greco encouraged her to pick it up again and give it another look.

She realized that, even though it was written years ago, it had what she calls a “contemporary reality.” She says, “We were unnerved at how current the story would be. It had an energy.”

Rebeck, who turned heads at the Magic with 2009’s “Mauritus,” is considered one of the country’s leading playwrights. Last year, she nabbed the 2010 PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Award for an American playwright in mid-career and her previous works — from “Bad Dates” to “The Scene” — prove she has that rare ability to not only explore beneath the surface of conditions, but to also offer audiences something they can all relate to on an emotional level.

That’s what makes “What We’re Up Against” all the more inviting.

“I think there’s a lot of dysfunction in the workplace around gender issues,” she says. “The ridiculous way that workplace politics are conducted completely gets in the way of excellence in America. So, the old ideas of excellence are subsumed by mediocrity, which become more about who is jockeying for power.”

She points out how these workplace issues typically affect women. Digging deeper, she notes a greater divide between genders.

“I just think the entire planet needs to reconsider how it treats women and children,” she says. “Until we, as a people, a race of beings, understand how to treat women and children, there will be war and catastrophe to a much greater degree. The state of our children is tied to the state of women.”

As for where some of her inspirations spring from, she turns to an revered proverb: “He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”

“But I struggle with the yin-yang of knowing that is true and also knowing that there’s a dynamism that has to be present in culture,” she adds. “We have to be trying to do better. I’m always out there fighting for the truth.”

 

IF YOU GO

What We’re Up Against

Where: Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.
When: Previews Wednesday through Feb. 8; opens at 8 p.m. Feb. 9; 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes March 6
Tickets: $20 to $50
Contact: (415) 441-8822 or www.magictheatre.org

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Greg Archer

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