Assistance Review. David Mamet Has Written A Play about Harvey Weinstein. Leslye Headland Wrote One a Decade Ago

David Mamet has revealed in an interview in the Chicago Tribune that he has written a play about Harvey Weinstein. “I was talking with my Broadway producer and he said, ‘Why don’t you write a play about Harvey Weinstein?’ And so I did.” Currently titled “Bitter Wheat,” its future is uncertain.
What is certain is that Leslye Headland, a woman who once worked as an assistant for Harvey Weinstein, wrote a play called “Assistance” in 2008, quite clearly based on her experiences. Below is my review of “Assistance” when it was produced at Playwrights Horizons in February, 2012:

The finale of “Assistance” is an abused employee’s revenge fantasy: A woman curses out her boss, and then dances defiantly as the office around her self-destructs in spectacular fashion: The papers whoosh out of the photocopy machine and thicken the air like a reverse avalanche; desks topple over, the air ductsbreak open, the sprinkler ignites, drenching her gloriously. Assistance.Playwrights Horizons/ Mainstage Theater....It is a modern Deus Ex Machina for which scenic designer David Korins deserves more than a standing ovation – a dance in his honor, perhaps? Those final five minutes could not be more perfect. The first 80 minutes of “Assistance” could be. What is missing even in the finale – but especially in the rest of playwright Leslye Headland’s vengeful snipe at all overbearing bosses – is the boss. “Assistance” is “The Devil Wears Prada” without the Meryl Streep character, “9 to 5” without Dabney Coleman, almost “Star Wars” without Darth Vader. Oh yes, the assistants surely have a boss and he turns the office every day into the last 30 minutes of the movie “Goodfellas,” as Nick (Michael Esper) explains to new assistant Nora (Virginia Kull): “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. And the narcs are shadowing you in a helicopter…but man, what a rush.”

Boss Daniel Weisinger insults his employees, corrects their grammar, wears them down with petty humiliations, fires them frequently. But we neither see nor hear Daniel. We hear of him, the young assistants all arranging their lives around his needs and whims, and we hear his assistants talking to him over the telephone (usually they are apologizing for some real or imagined infraction.) But we never see him; we are not even told what business he is in, although we can guess. Omitting a corporeal big macher is at least in the abstract a defensible choice. It’s easier to let the audience imagine a monstrous boss than to depict one. It also helps to have a stellar six-member cast, including Bobby Steggert as the most junior of the assistant, who is apologetic about the boss’s driver running over his foot. Esper, first-rate in both “American Idiot” and “The Lyons,” plays the biggest loser and the longest-lasting of Daniel’s assistants. But following a rather random year of rotating assistants turning hysterical (not in a good way) offers too realistic a taste of the tedium and chaos of life in a tyrannized workplace, despite some lines that are hysterical (in a good way.) It needs be said that Leslye Headland, who also wrote the play “Bachelorette” and describes herself as a screenwriter and TV scriptwriter (“Terriers” on FX), has talked of her experiences as an assistant to film entrepreneur Harvey Weinstein, who has a notorious reputation. If he really goes through assistants the way Daniel Weisinger does, then there will be an eager audience of them to fill the theater for “Assistance.”

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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