Theater Review: The Gronholm Method

Chelsea Sutton
From left: Jonathan Cake, Lesli Margherita, Stephen Spinella and Graham Hamilton in "The Grunholm Method"
Absorbing puzzle play builds an intricately ingenious mousetrap with witty situations and surprising reverses.

Jordi Galceran Ferrer's play, which was adapted into the 2005 Spanish film "The Method," gets an English-language production at Burbank's Falcon Theatre.

A riveting entertainment from 2003 concocted by Catalan playwright Jordi Galceran Ferrer (and made into an award-winning Spanish film two years later), this crackling English adaptation of The Gronholm Method mines a mutant subgenre of the “whodunit” in the tradition of “Sleuth” or “Deathtrap”: Who is doing what to whom, and why?

Four job applicants enter a sealed room for a collective “final” interview for a top executive post in marketing at a Fortune 500 corporation. Frank (Jonathan Cake) is a ferocious competitor, a true believer in business ruthlessness. Rick (multiple Tony winner Stephen Spinella) appears mousier but hides a subtle streak of masterly manipulation. The younger Carl (Graham Hamilton) and Melanie (Lesli Margherita) were fellow MBA students, long out of touch but both aggressive and savvy. Together they are asked to engage in multiple games with obscure motivations, beginning with trying to guess who among them is the plant from “Human Relations.” Anyone can leave at any time but would forfeit the job.

As the role-playing demanded of them becomes more outlandish and the stakes continue to intensify, the politics of interpersonal relations stand as metaphors for corporate irresponsibility and rogue psychology. The play is a fairly vicious indictment of the ethics of careerist success, but its mechanics are so inventive and the twists so dramatically engaging that one is more likely to become involved in the gamesmanship and sharp dialogue than in the incidental social commentary. With each turn in the plot, sympathies are wrenched and the playwright surprises us with our own abilities to switch attitudes and viewpoints toward the characters. It’s a good deal more dense and complex than the less-supple God of Carnage, which it thematically resembles.

Of course, to make such machine hum convincingly, all the parts must function with precision. The actors are faultless, shifting gears effortlessly and confounding our expectations as they reveal unexpected dimensions to the characters, who admittedly are more constructions of recognizable behaviors than people with internal lives. Cake incarnates the suit as quintessential asshole and wraps his voice around his snarky lines with a relish both infectious and repellant. The others are even more chameleonic, deft without signaling any turns. Direction, set, costumes and sound are spot-on.

The pace lags only during one of the conspicuously less inventive games in which the applicants don ludicrous headgear to play archetypes out of the world of tired gags (bishop, cowboy, clown) And the entire enterprise is shadowed by our inevitable awareness of the continuing contrivance, which nevertheless mirrors the players’ reactions to the unseen presences that deliver their befuddling instructions by way of a self-opening cabinet drawer. Gronholm Method is one of the most satisfying commercial shows seen locally this year.

Produced by for Baby Tiger Productions, Daniel Wallace and Trish Whitehurst
Cast: Jonathan Cake, Stephen Spinella, Lesli Margherita, Graham Hamilton

Playwright: Jordi Galceran Ferrer
Translation by: Anne Garcia-Romero and Mark St. Germain.
Director: BT McNicholl
Set designer: Brian Webb
Lighting designer: Jennifer Schriever
Costume designer: Ann Closs-Farley
Sound designer: Cricket Myers