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Darkness In The Valley

Bay Area playwright Aaron Loeb's 'Ideation' takes you through
an array of emotions in a fast-paced, dark comedy

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In 'Ideation,' a group of high-paid consultants are given an ethically dubious task.

From lights up to the final blackout 90 minutes later, Bay Area playwright Aaron Loeb's Ideation takes you through an array of emotions in a fast-paced, dark comedy addressing the notion of powerful people making decisions that directly change the world. All too familiar to the Silicon Valley, the play skewers the consulting business when a team of high-powered, intelligent management consultants are dealt with an ethically questionable, top-secret assignment.

"Many decisions that affect the rest of the country—and the world—are made in conference rooms similar to the one depicted in this play," says Lisa Mallette, executive director of City Lights Theater Company.

The savvy deconstruction of modern consulting begins as the team of five come together in a nondescript meeting room to begin work on a mysterious project. Hannah, played by Mallette, struggles to find control as the only female and the leader of four men.

The rest of the team consists of the handsome but nauseatingly confident Brock (George Psarras); a civil engineer and family man, Ted (Tom Gough); an industrial engineer and the youngest consultant, Sandeep (Sunny Moza); and the incompetent young intern, Scooter (Max Tachis). Directed by Mark Anderson Phillips, the cast does an excellent job of balancing nervous hilarity with serious debate.

As the dismal specifics of Project Senna unfold, the meeting devolves, with each character growing increasingly suspicious and resentful of the others in the room. As the play progresses, it becomes apparent that the team's task involves designing a system to dispose of millions of bodies without leaving a trace. When the team starts spinning together design ideas, it slowly dawns on them that they are possibly being asked to assist a governmental body in genocide.

The conspiracy theories reach a fever pitch as each member of the team accuses another of connivance with J.D.—their consulting firm's CEO and the only character not seen onstage. "It's quite a thrill ride of a play, and it's performed in real time (90 minutes of your life, 90 minutes of the characters' lives), so it really makes you feel like you're part of it," Phillips says.

In the end, the audience is left with a series of unanswered and thorny ethical questions. "I think it's always good to remind ourselves that with great power comes great responsibility; to remember that some of the decisions these companies make can have wide-reaching implications," Phillips says.

Thru Feb 19
City Lights Theater, San Jose