There’s a VERY important marketing message for all major brands in “The Veri**on Play,” a new work now at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. What, you may ask, is that message? Well, put simply: Don’t subject a working playwright to bad service and force her to make good on her threats of retribution.
For according to the back story that goes with “The Veri**on Play,” that is exactly what happened in the case of playwright Lisa Kron, who, like many thousands of other people in this country, had an issue with her cell phone service provider a while back.
As the story goes, she got so frustrated and angry while trying to get the matter resolved that she resorted to threats — promising to write a play about the situation if the telecommunications company didn’t get the problem resolved.
Of course the customer service rep to whom Kron made the threats thought she was just joking — despite Kron’s increasingly forceful assertions that she was quite serious.
Long story short, Kron eventually made good on her threat. The result is “The Veri**on Play,” now having its premiere as part of the prestigious annual Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre.
Customer service of paramount importance
If nothing else, the finished play by Kron and the production on view at Actors Theatre through April 1, should be a VERY forceful reminder that any major brand of whatever stripe must never, ever forget that superior customer service is of paramount importance.
In Kron’s play, whose title leaves little doubt as to which telecommunications giant she is going after, the protagonist Jenni (also played by Kron in this production) has what seems, initially, to be a relatively minor billing issue with her mobile service provider.
But little does Jenni know how minor can quickly become major when incompetence and bureaucratic red tape inject themselves into the proceedings. Perhaps the funniest single moment in the show comes near the top of the play when Jenni makes her first call to Veri**on customer service. We watch and listen as she proceeds through numerous steps before she finally makes contact with a live customer service agent.
Audience relates to customer service hell
At the performance we attended, there were howls of laughter from just about everyone in the audience as they readily recognized — and sympathized with — the pure hell that Jenni’s cell service provider and so many other brands make customers endure, all the while referencing it as customer service.
Kron’s play takes Jenni’s particular agony and seeks to demonstrate how universal it is when she joins a group therapy program. But at that point Kron’s plot starts to go a bit haywire as we discover, among other things, that Jenni’s sister actually works for “Veri**on” (pronounced “ferizon” in the play).
Things really go bonkers in the second half of the intermissionless 100-minute show as Jenni and her band of buddies go round the world in a desperate search for a functioning ATM, even as Jenni finally figures out that her very own sister has conspired to make it impossible to resolve the billing problem.
Kron’s play ultimately may be a little too free
form to satisfy some theatergoers. It also doesn’t help that Kron tends to overly underplay her lead role in what increasingly becomes a wacky flat-out farce.
Play has useful message for marketers
And when the play should be focusing ever more tightly on the insanity of Jenni’s plight, Kron improv-like structure makes the play’s final impact less than it could — and should — be.
In fact, the whole thing ends with a jolly audience sing-along that hardly reflects the darker issues Kron seems to want to explore.
Still, whatever life it has after the Humana Festival, “The Veri**on Play” will continue to serve in the theatrical canon as a zany reminder that brands should exist to serve customers.
And when they don’t, companies run the risk of VERY public embarrassment.
Just like a certain telecommunications provider named Verizon (sound familiar?) was VERY recently when it sought to charge customers to pay their bills online.
Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com