Magic Theatre presents Theresa Rebeck’s What We’re up Against….a must see.

In the sex war, thoughtlessness is the weapon of the male,
Vindictiveness of the female.
Cyril Connolly

“I honestly believe that the act of finding humor in real despair is both courageous and life-affirming,” says Theresa Rebeck, author of this world premier drama at The Magic Theatre. “Some people think that comedy is a less-serious form than drama. I would say, ‘far from it’.”

She is speaking about What We’re Up Against the production now playing at The Magic Theatre. The action takes place in the offices of an architectural firm run by David (whom we never see), with Warren David Keith as Stu, outraged at the very thought that a woman like Eliza (Sarah Nealis) could possibly have the brains and the know how to compete with him professionally. James Wagner is the newest member of the firm but because he is male, he is way ahead of Eliza in the office pecking order.

All the discussions in the play revolve around installing problematical air ducts in an expanded shopping center and the immense frustration and anger of the men because the only one who has the solution is Eliza. Rod Gnapp as Ben is nothing short of amazing and acts as the “Devil’s Advocate” in the dialogue. In every argument and each encounter, he always brings the discussion back to the problem no one but Eliza can solve: those ducts. The plot is “An examination of the corporate work place where excellence is trumped by safe, mediocre ‘group think,” says Magic’s Artistic Director, Loretta Greco. “And a slippery ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality.....Nevertheless, despite it’s comedic size of spirit, the play’s gender politics are heartbreakingly true.”

Indeed, while we laugh at the language, the exaggerated bigotry and the hyped-up reactions of the masterful cast in What We’re Up Against,” we weep for Eliza as she comes to terms with the truth no one wants to admit: talent is never enough…nor is it even a deciding factor. Who you know, who you are, what you say and who likes you is a far better barometer of acceptance on the job. Eliza is abrasive, full of herself, haughty and judgmental. She sees Janice (Pamela Gaye Walker) the other woman in the firm as a stupid tool who allows herself to be demeaned and trivialized by the men in the firm and she will have none of it. She is smart. She knows her business and she deserves recognition for what she can do. Why then do the men in the firm hate her? Why do they put her down, ignore her and refuse to give her either work or respect? It has not occurred to her that she must assess the pecking order in the firm and work with it before she can become part of the team. “Of course I’m a malcontent,” she tells Janice. “They shoved me in a corner and ignored me for six fucking months. Only a fucking idiot would be contented with that.”

And Janice counters with, “They ignored me for a full year. When they weren’t asking me to bring them coffee.”

Eliza answers, “Oh so what? You’re better than me because you know how to put up with their bullshit? That doesn’t make you smart. That makes you a pussy.”

Every woman in that audience should have shut her eyes and recalled how many times the guy who knew less than she did got the promotion, or how humiliated she was when the woman who buttered up the boss got the raise. We watch Eliza and if we have taken any notice of the real world, we don’t just cry for her, we weep for us all. “Women’s liberation,” said Gloria Steinem, “Is men’s liberation too.”

We all lose, when ability isn’t recognized. We all pay when excellence is ignored.
“You have an attitude problem,” says Janice to Eliza and then continues, “You come in here with all your ‘I want to learn, I want to work,’ so that then what, you can go off and become Frank Ghehry or I.M. Pei or Julia Morgan?”

But Eliza cannot control her indignation. She knows the answer and they won’t listen. She points to her design and she says, “I’m talented, you motherfucker. I’m fucking talented….” And continues “I came here, you stuck me in a closet and expected me to just take it. You tried to erased me.”

And Bens sees what she is up against. He gets it. “Everybody’s collaborating on shit that is totally corporatized junk, but you still want your mark somewhere.”

”Everywhere I go, these fucking golden boys who are morons, what is it about a pretty boy with no brain that makes all these shitheads with power start singing love songs?” Eliza says, and continues, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They said it wasn’t like this anymore. Why is it still LIKE this?”

Reality is tough to take and this fast paced production does not spare us. You may laugh at the dialogue, but you will leave that theater realizing how far we have not gone at all. This production shows what everyone of us is really up against. It will grab you by your tail and keep you engrossed from start to finish. The directing is right on the mark, and not a word is wasted. Make no mistake…those scenes aren’t superficial figments of a feminist imagination on a stage. They are the glass walls all of us smack into whether we are black in a white world, Latino in a corporate setting, female in a mechanic’s garage or young in an old boy’s club. Who we are matters more than we dare to admit and all those entrenched attitudes that we SAY have vanished are even harder to fight today because they are frosted with polite talk. In What We’re Up Against, Theresa Rebeck strips away the civilized language. We hear a string of four-letter-words that blacken the picture we hate to believe is really there.

What We’re Up Against continues at Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA 94123.
Tickets: ($44-$60) 415 441 8822 or
Preludes: Free introduction to the play: 7:00 -7:30 pm in the lounge. Free glass of wine served.
TalkBACKs after every performance with Magic Theatre artistic staff and artists.