In San Francisco Playhouse’s “The Fit,” ambition is everything as employees in a venture capital firm vie for personal and professional success in an industry focused on getting ahead. Written by Carey Perloff and directed by Bill English, both longtime theater directors, the one-act show played June 14 at American Conservatory Theater’s The Rueff.
The play follows recent college graduate and capital associate Sakina (Avanthika Srinivasan), whose focus on funding a wearable medical device company forces her into conflict against Paul (Johnny Moreno), the high-powered CEO of her firm. After Paul voices concerns over whether or not Sakina is a “fit” at the male-dominated, cutthroat company, Jeremy (Jeff Kim), a complacent co-worker with an ambiguous relationship with Sakina, tries to help her. And after Sakina’s chance encounter with Paul’s wife Marcia (Arwen Anderson), a series of complex backstabbings begin.
Through references to everything from Impossible Burgers to Mashable to Juuls, the play is bent from the start on reminding the audience that this really is today’s Silicon Valley. Though the inclusion of these name-drops seem to be Perloff’s attempts at ensuring the play’s relevancy, they distract from the narrative. It’s only when the play moves past these introductions, near the second half, that the plot emerges.
The script is tightly written, with a well-planned, structurally sound plot allowing its runtime to fly by. Yet it might’ve been better had it taken the time to slow down, as emotional moments and motivators are never given their due time. Among an otherwise perfectly fine cast, Moreno and Anderson play Paul and Marcia superbly — but even these characters’ concern for their sick child is never allowed to truly land. Characters understandably build their walls up high, but it’s a shame that few are allowed moments to show their true interiority.
Even though the characters risk nearly everything to get ahead at work, the stakes are never truly established nor explored for most of them. Sakina often seems on the verge of losing her job, though it’s never shown what this job means to her. It’s only clear what the pill-pushing janitor who sleeps in the office, Ching (Michelle Talgarow), is risking, though even her entrepreneurial skills are mostly played for laughs and the occasional plot device.
In attempts to discuss diversity in Silicon Valley, the play also falls flat. In debates concerning whether Sakina’s a “fit” for the company, her gender is frequently mentioned, mostly in the context of stereotypes. When convincing Paul that she can play along, for instance, all she does is compliment his favorite IPA. Yet the play never truly engages with this, or Sakina’s status as a woman of color, beyond jokes and attempts to point out the intrinsic tribalism behind any identity. These surface-level observations leave much to be desired in exploring such subjects.
The set for “The Fit”, designed by Heather Kenyon, is intimate and sparse, and it converts into various office rooms throughout the play, allowing for seamless and beautiful scene transitions. Mixed in with up-tempo, hurried interscene music, the play attempts to convey characters’ devotion to work and money-making. Ambition is held in near godlike status, a reverence that the play declares is wrong but contributes to all the while. As characters scheme around each other constantly to get ahead without even a brief respite, the play indulges in the very thing it’s criticizing.
Near the climax of the script, Sakina begins to work in her own self-interest, a change that is positioned as uniquely male and characteristic of Silicon Valley; Sakina’s willingness to eschew ethical concerns is presented as her willingness to mold to this conformist standard. In the disappointing final moments of the play, Paul and Jeremy accept Sakina as “one of them” while listing all the stereotypically male things she’ll do, before she makes her final decision. The abrupt stop leaves the audience little time to contemplate Sakina’s actions or the message it’s sending — a fitting end for a play that’s more concerned with the causes of unethical behavior than their effects.
“The Fit” will be running at American Conservatory Theater’s Strand Theater in San Francisco through June 29.