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CORPORATE VIBES.

(DRAMA; SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE DRAMA THEATER; 544 SEATS; A$48 ($30) TOP)

SYDNEY A Sydney Theater Co., Queensland Theater Co. and Caltex Australia presentation of a play in two acts by David Williamson. Directed by Robyn Nevin. Sets, Stephen Curtis; costumes, Tracy James; lighting, Nick Schlieper; music, Max Lambert; stage manager, Leonie Dixon. Opened, reviewed Jan. 30, 1999. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Deborah                               Lydia Miller
Brian                         Tony Llewellyn-Jones
Angela                           Caroline Kennison
Megan                                Olivia Pigeot
Sam                                  William Zappa
Michael                           Andrew McFarlane
Michelle                              Kelly Butler

A satire of both corporate heartlessness and touchy-feely human resources management techniques, David Williamson's "Corporate Vibes" hits a home run with deft direction, sterling performances and populist laughs, but the play is ultimately a series of shallow sneers at unengaging, underdeveloped caricatures.

The simple plot has Sam, the heartless head of an architectural firm who wants "staff who are willing to bleed for me," trying to sack his management team. Enter Deborah, a naive Aboriginal human resources manager, who, instead of firing the team, attempts to impose such revolutionary changes on the company as collaborative decision-making. What ensues is a basic moral fable in which Sam undergoes a change by finally listening to his dispirited employees.

Play's world bow marks the return of David Williamson, Oz's most prolific and bankable playwright, to the Sydney Theater Co. after a bruising dustup over the STC's direction of his 1996 comedy "Heretic." This time there have been no quibbles from the playwright about the direction of Robyn Nevin, one of Oz's most popular thesp/helmers and the artistic director of the Queensland Theater Co.

While this is far from Williamson's most engaging work, Nevin weaves a snappy magic that extracts maximum laughs and first-rate perfs from all players, who somehow maintain audience interest in a clutch of characters we care little about. Stephen Curtis' metallically sterile set, with its large revolving door, is excellent, while Nevin's technique of having characters stare piercingly into the audience at the end of each exchange effectively challenges those watching to recognize themselves in the play.

To be sure, there's a certain timeliness to, and much humor in, Williamson's scoffing at the politics of downsizing, fashionable human resources management techniques and cutthroat competition in Sydney's booming high-rise apartment sector. But often the play's satiric targets are vague, and it indulges in conservative cliches of Aboriginality and affirmative action (such as making the firm's equal opportunity officer a scheming shrew).

Indeed, some would say "Corporate Vibes" confirms Williamson's shift from being the darling of the left -- with such 1970s classics as "Don's Party" -- to being decidedly more conservative, as was evident with "Dead White Males," which has just finished a U.K. run.

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Title Annotation:Review; Sydney Opera House Drama Theater, Sydney, Australia
Author:WOODS, MARK
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:Feb 8, 1999
Words:447
Previous Article:RICHARD III.
Next Article:THE FOREST.
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