“The Promotion” is a black comedy of the business world

Scene form NJ Rep's
Scene form NJ Rep's "The Promotion"

NJ Rep show has been tightened up since it was briefly presented

The finest producing company in the state—New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch—has done it again. Joe Giovannetti’s play The Promotion inaugurates NJ Rep’s refurbished—no, recreated—main space, serving up a play that stirs together the old stories of greed and pride destroying people and friendships with modern overlays of sexism, racism, and harassment. The result is a riveting, intermission-less 90-minutes that will shake its audience to the core.

The play revolves around Trish (Sophia Perola) and Josh (John Caliendo), the two top salespeople in their small insurance company. They maintain a friendly workplace rivalry, their competition measured in monthly and annual sales totals. Amid rumors of their company possibly being bought out by a larger one, Josh and Trish are summoned separately into the office of the owner and informed of his imminent retirement—and the possibility of one of them becoming his replacement. To Josh, the increase in salary means he can better provide for his wife and their young son. To Trish, a single Black woman, the promotion will provide both additional recognition of her worth in the business world and the funds she needs to have her aging mother properly cared for. The only question is:  how far will each of them go to get the promotion?

The Promotion background is money falling with a silhouette of a woman standing on the back silhouette of a man
“The Promotion” at New Jersey Repertory Company

The show has been tightened up since it was briefly presented here prior to the pandemic. The result is a quick-paced, taut play under Evan Bergman’s expert direction. Actors Perola and Caliendo breathe life and complexity into their characters, and your sympathies switch from one to the other and back again as the play unfolds.

They are well supported by Phillip Clark as Hank, a potential client whose successful wooing would give a huge boost to the salesperson who lands him, and Anja Lee as Lois, the no-nonsense manager of the two protagonists who is temporarily saddled with the duties of the HR department. The interactions between and among Trish, Josh, and Lois get more raw and intense as the play moves to its shattering conclusion.

As usual, the members of the technical team at the New Jersey Repertory Company create a vibrant world without needing lavish special effects, focusing on serving the play instead of calling attention to themselves. Foremost among them in this production is Scenic Designer Jessica Parks, an 18-year veteran of NJ Rep, whose office set is just professional enough to be real and just untidy enough at the edges to let you know the company is not an industry giant. Fine contributions also come from Costume Designer Patricia E. Doherty, Sound Designers Nick Simone and Merek Royce Press, Lighting Designer Jill Nagle, and Fight Director Brad Lemons.

In a far fairer world, a show like The Promotion would be running to sold-out audiences for months, and the New Jersey Repertory Company would be the name on every serious theatre-goer’s lips. Unfortunately, the world is not so fair. All I can do is encourage those interested in a new, serious, well-done play presented with love and skill and talent to get themselves down to Long Branch to see The Promotion before its all-too-brief run ends. You will regret it if you don’t.

The Promotion is presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company at their theatre in Long Branch until February 20th. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 732-229-3166 or visit njrep.org. Proof of vaccination and a photo ID are required to enter the theatre, and masks must be worn while inside.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.