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Off Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 20, 2024

Tim Marriott and Alex Sunderhaus
Photo by Carol Rosegg
They say that wonderful things sometimes come in small packages. Case in point: Appraisal, a thrilling and splendidly performed cat-and-mouse play opening tonight as part of the Brits Off Broadway season at 59E59 Theaters. It runs only 60 minutes, yet the experience from the audience is the equivalent of watching a great, evenly matched round of professional tennis.

The title and the context is one that many will be able to relate to, the often awkward annual workplace meeting with the boss to review one's accomplishments and challenges and to set goals for the next cycle. Many execs, unfortunately, are not well equipped to run this assessment process, and Jo (a terrific Tim Marriott who is also the playwright) is particularly inept. That he also comes across as a creepy sexist dickwad hardly helps his approach.

On the other side of the desk sits Nicky (Alex Sunderhaus, equally excellent), a middle management leader of a work team, now completing her 11th year in that role. She knows she is good at her job and hates being at this meeting. But she is willing to tolerate the encounter if Jo will make it short and sweet so she can back to work.

It's clear from the outset that neither is fond of the other one. Jo, frankly, wants to get rid of Nicky altogether if he can (she's not much of a team player, is his official assessment), but he is somewhat careful as to how he's going to handle it. Mustn't get HR involved, after all. He may fumble from time to time, but he does carry the certitude of the power he wields in his position, and he has accrued enough ammunition (gossip, blackmail, bribery, threats) to make a go at achieving his goals, which, as it turns out, are motivated by more personal impulses than he cares to let on.

For her part, Nicky is not particularly circumspect, and definitely not deferential in her interactions with Jo. Not one to bite her tongue, she is more than willing to speak down to him, often interrupting to correct his vocabulary and grammar ("The word data is plural. So, 'data are', not 'data is'.") As it turns out, her ammo pack is also well stocked. You will definitely find yourself catching your breath with each move one or the other makes, as the center of power shifts back and forth, perhaps less of a tennis match than a well-played game of chess. Even in the final moments, what appears to be a decisive checkmate may turn out to be just "check."

Director Margarett Perry has masterfully developed the performances' timing in a play in which Marriott appeared in the London production that closed just weeks ago while Sunderhaus, an American actress, comes fresh to this production. The two of them play beautifully off one another, as if they'd been working together for years. The annual Brits Off Broadway visits to 59E59 often offer up marvelously original work, and Appraisal is decidedly a gem.

Through June 30, 2024
59E59 Theaters, Theater B, 59 East 59th St., New York, NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: