William Marchant’s The Desk Set is an entertaining 1955 Broadway comedy which
revolves around one of the 50s’ biggest fears. No, not fear of communism or of
nuclear war, but rather the fear of the machine replacing man at the workplace.
Here, the machine is a gigantic (especially by today’s standards) computer called
E.M.M.A.R.A.C, nicknamed “Emmy,” and the workplace is the Reference
Department of IBC, a large radio and television broadcasting company in
Research department head Bunny Watson (perky Michele Bernath), a walking
encyclopedia, is not at all happy about the arrival of Richard Sumner (Robert
Gallo), the “method engineer aka efficiency expert,” nor are secretaries Sadel,
Peg, and Ruthie, all of whom fear the loss of their jobs to “Emmy.” Bunny’s life is
further complicated by the reluctance of her longtime beau Abe (Klair Bybee) to
Marchant’s script is most definitely a period piece, set in a time where every girl’s
dream was to marry, move to the suburbs, stay at home, and raise kids. Still there
are quite a few laughs, many of which are gotten by the excellent Kim Burns,
doing her best Eve Arden as Bunny’s wisecracking office buddy Peg. Trisha
Hershberger, with her pretty face and 1950s figure, does charming work as Sadel.
Newcomer Michael Dean Connolly hides his leading man good looks behind horn-
rimmed glasses as a character known only as “The Man in the Shirt Sleeves” (he
never wears a jacket). Diane Frank is all prim and proper professionalism as
supposedly “Emmy”-savvy Miss Warriner, that is until some very funny Act 3
computer glitches (due to human error) send her into a flustered tizzy. Lillian
Robinson gets laughs just walking across the stage (once per act) as “The Lady,” a
70something 50-year employee of IBC, and Justin Vasquez is cute and funny as
office boy Kenny. The cast is rounded out by Jennifer Ross, Patrick Gunn, and Sara
There are some entertaining moments in the production, directed by Doug
Engalla. It’s fun to go back in time and revisit a somewhat forgotten gem of the
50s. The uncredited costumes evoke the period, especially the women’s hats,
cinched waistlines, and full skirts. Chris Winfield has designed a good set given
budget constraints, and Justin Field’s lighting is effective.
Some suspension of disbelief is required of the audience, as several of the
characters appear to have been written for performers considerably younger than
those playing them, and a couple of the cast members still seemed shaky with
their lines on this, the second performance.
Notwithstanding, playgoers looking to step back in time for an amusing two hours
will find enjoyable moments watching The Desk Set.
Lonny Chapman Repertory Group Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North
November 24, 2007
Photos: Doug Engalla