Partner Track: a shining debut of a play

Partner Track posterPartner Track
By Patrick Brennan
Reviewed by Jane Hanbuch and Donald D’Haene
Bannished By The King Production
Starring: Dylan Rock (Marty), Patrick Brennan (Ben), George Hamzo (Brad), Shana Train (Cathy), Rachael Billington (Jade), Nic Bishop (Gary), Sean Brennan (Marshall)
The ARTS Project
October 3-5 8 p.m. (2 p.m. Matinee on Oct. 5)

Program notes for Partner Track give us this synopsis: “At the biggest law firm in town, tragedy strikes. Tragedy is, of course, a relative term. Six young lawyers are forced to confront their career decisions and mortality in this dark comedy of choices, paths, and regrets.”

Director Sean Brennan tells us: “This isn’t a show about lawyers – it’s a show about looking at yourself and who you want to be.”

Donald: I never looked at myself while watching Partner Track – not even once, Jane. I had fun watching this comedy though.

Jane: Donald, I looked at you a few times – you were laughing! I could relate a bit to the idea of a job as the “golden handcuffs”, but the grueling work of an intern in a law firm is, thankfully, something of which I am largely inexperienced.

Partner track photo 1Donald: Tongue planted firmly in cheek, Playwrightactor Patrick Brennan (Photo Right: Brennan as Ben) says he’s been involved in London Community Theatre for, “well over six weeks”. What an auspicious debut: a clever writer and a performer with potential.

Jane: I agree there is much potential, but as a writer, he needs to workshop this play a few more times to pare down some of the repetitive lines. It would have helped the pacing in both acts. This could have been a great one hour play! Unlike many new writers, he does know how to maintain the overall integrity of the story and has a sharp, well written ending. As you and I have commented before, the end of the play seems to be troublesome for many new writers. Not so with Brennan.

Donald: The writing betrays an inside track into the world of lawyers and the firms they work under. I don’t know Mr. Brennan but I’d venture a guess that he’s had some axes to grind. Lucky us! I hope he needs to work out personal shit in other areas because the theatre world will be the luckier for it!

Sean Brennan’s direction of the opening scene had energy and spark. I knew we were in for an interesting ride. I liked the topical references like Silver Lining Playbook and Linked In. I also appreciated the quick scene changes and the terrific use of music during them.

Jane: The music choices added to the show. The simple sets and grey/black set and costumes effectively underscored the grey world of which they had all become part.

Donald: As the show progressed I had some issues with static, repetitive blocking though.

Jane: It was difficult for the actors to interact effectively when they were standing, almost in rows. The restaurant scene and the opening were more fluid as the actors had something to work from: they knew how to pretend to be at a desk, or seated in a sushi bar. The quick changes in scene were thanks to Nic Bishop as well. His moments as the “scene seguay guy” added many of the nights best laughs from the audience.

Donald: Agreed. The spirit of this firm reminded me of a sitcom like WKRP in Cincinatti more than, say, LA LAW. That’s a compliment. I never cared for LA LAW. I enjoyed WKRP’s over-the-top characters, language and behaviour. But what WKRP had that was a tad missing here is lovable characters. The one exception is Gary played by Bishop.

Jane: Bishop steals the show as a law geek who has asperger’s syndrome. Even when he is in the background, his face is worth watching.

The brief possiblity of a romance between two of the play’s characters was swept away quickly in the first act then resurfaces for moments in the end. Building on this, even with the actors catching each other’s eye during the larger performance would have added to the depth of these characters. It would have allowed us to imagine a world beyond the law firm. In the playwright’s defense, (and that seems an appropriate thing to say in a play about the law) – a world beyond may be exactly what the playwright doesn’t want us to think about in Partner Track. Brennan does make it clear to us that there is no world beyond the law firm, so perhaps, no one is meant to be lovable at all Donald?

Donald: True, but I think he made himself likable to a degree. I would rather even the jerk character have been more lovable – or at least someone you love to hate!

Overall though, I would add the way the actors were directed to speak to us as much as to each other played out in the spirit of a more current sitcom, Community – as if they too were part of a documentary for reality TV. In many ways this worked as the laughter from the audience testified to.

Jane: Speaking to us directly worked well in the second half. It gave us a chance to understand the larger and ongoing machinations of the office politics and the Machiavellian acceptance of sex and friendship as currency.

Partner track photo 2Donald: In an odd way, Cathy’s (as played by Shana Train in photo left; Dylan Rock as Marty, right) early one-note personality (I jotted down her character acted like she had a bug up her ___!) ended up in act two providing me a couple of giggle fits. As she (as well as the others) relax into their characters further into the run, I’ll bet the show will be just that much better.

Jane: Train (Cathy) derailed me a few times. There were moments when she simply clenched her hands. I thought she was going to walk up and pop another character on the head with her fist! A prop or two would have been beneficial to help her place herself more firmly and realistically in the scene. It is hard to stand on a bare stage for an hour and half and figure out where to put your appendages.

Donald: I’ve seen many of these actors in other shows and I believe they were directed to their individual strengths. For the most part, exaggerating those strengths worked. Again, I wanted more believability along the way. For example, you have smarmy …and it was smarmy from A – Z; same with Rachael Billington’s attitude as Jade..she began there and never wavered. I wanted some wavering! Yes, the stereotypes worked but only to a point.

Jane: Marshall was the oddest stereotype, initially. As the seemingly invisible moral force in the first part of the play, he was more powerful than when he first appeared on stage. He is like a revered god of sorts – the one who got away! Playwright Brennan’s ability to play with this idea added much to the comedy in the second half and reinforced the dark, amoral world Brennan wanted us to view through his very funny lens.

Donald: I want these actors to remember that comedy is anchored in reality. You must believe you are real people interacting in real situations. Breath, be and we will respond even more than we did opening night.

Patrick Brennan is the shining new kid on the block in the world of London playwrights and Banished By the King did an entertaining job presenting his Partner Track.

Jane: A well wrought comedy, Partner Track provides us with an insider look at the world of the young and ambitious. Even if you are old and rather complacent you will find it a fun night out at the theatre. Go, watch and enjoy!

Dish stars-3.5 /   5

About Jane Hanbuch

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Jane Hanbuch has been enjoying local theatre for many years. As a former member of the Brickenden core adjudicating panel, she had to take a vow of silence on any plays viewed. Freed from the constraints of this position, she is enjoying giving her unsolicited and barely valid opinion to anyone who will listen including Donald.