by Erika Sheffer
directed by Yasen Peyankov
Originally produced at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago, IL
November 10 - December 23, 2016
About the Premiere Production:
Synopsis: Millie is a smart, resourceful young mother who works as a housekeeper in one of New York’s premiere luxury hotels. When an opportunity to move into management gives her the chance to leave behind her blue collar life, Millie must decide how much, and who, she’s willing to sacrifice to secure her family’s future. A funny and scathing look at America’s corporate culture, The Fundamentals examines the compromises we make in order to fulfill our dreams.
Artistic Statement: Says Sheffer of her work, “I’m inspired by the people and places in this city that seldom find meaningful representation in the arts.” The play looks at the lack of advancement opportunities for service industry employees and the challenges one faces when attempting to break out of a life that cannot, from an economic standpoint, reasonably sustain a family. The Fundamentals is part of the current national conversation about the minimum wage and the lack of educational opportunity available in some working class--frequently minority--neighborhoods. In addition, the audience witnesses opportunistic and unsentimental decision-making from the lead female character, challenging our assumptions about gender and societally appropriate behavior.
Grant Statement: For the play, Sheffer has crafted a remarkably complex central character in the role of Millie – a young mother who, due to her financial and social position, must make difficult choices between her personal relationships and the advancement of her career. The portrayal of Millie is refreshingly unsentimental and her actions could be seen by an audience as callous or cruel. The extra rehearsal time, with all artistic parties in the room, will afford us the ability to track this narrative and our relationship with the central character, ensuring that each decision she makes is clearly laid out, even if her motivations are left deliberately and intriguingly vague. The nuances of this character on the page and in performance will require time and experimentation that can only be achieved by actual work in the room with the existing cast and director. The clarity of character relationship and the consequence of action are absolutely paramount to the successful landing of this play with an audience. We have expressed a desire to develop more fully the relationship between Millie and her husband Lorenzo, insuring that that sacrifice comes across clearly. In addition, the relationship with Abe and the motivation of Millie’s final betrayal of him needs further development to make the sequence of action and the escalation of event obvious to an audience. These questions will be addressed in the week of discontinuous rehearsal and further nuanced in the added continuous rehearsal time. Finally, while the social issues covered in the play are both inherently dramatic and important to our societal conversation, Sheffer’s work is unique in that it tackles important issues with a light and humorous tone. As it currently exists, The Fundamentals is a very funny play and we want to be sure, over the extended rehearsal process, that we are able to clarify the issues and relationships while maintaining the humor that is so essential to the audience experience. Rehearsing a comedy, particularly a new one, requires time for trial and error to insure that the balance is just right. The added rehearsal time would prove a huge benefit to this kind of exploratory work.
Steppenwolf ensemble members Alana Arenas (Millie), Caroline Neff (Stellan) and Alan Wilder (Abe) with Audrey Francis (Eliza) and Armando Riesco (Lorenzo).
Set Designer: Collette Pollard
Lighting Designer: Lee Fiskness
Costume Designer: Natasha Dukich
Sound Designer: Rick Sims
Dramaturg: Polly Hubbard