KRWG

Customer Service Nightmares, Now Onstage

Mar 30, 2012
Originally published on March 30, 2012 3:19 pm

Playwright Lisa Kron mines her own life to create her often-hilarious work. She has written about being the child of a Holocaust survivor, and about her mother's struggles with chronic illness. Her latest play deals with a struggle common to all of us — the agony of computerized customer service.

The Veri**on Play alludes, in its title, to Kron's issues with a major telecommunications company. Kron says she got the idea for the play while on the phone with a particularly unhelpful customer service rep. "And I found myself screaming at this person, 'I'm going to write a play about this,' " she says. "And there was a little bit of a beat, and what I perceived the person at the other end of the phone doing was shrugging and saying, 'Go ahead, knock yourself out.' "

So Kron did. She's now starring in The Veri**on Play, which is getting its world premiere at Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays.

The characters in the play rail against a company called Ferizon — yes, you read that right: Ferizon, with an F. "But it's a little more ambiguous in the title," Kron says.

Her cast members were quick to offer their own customer service horror stories. Clayton Dean Smith says he fell into the computerized vortex after moving out of an apartment complex that had been bought by a large real estate development corporation.

"I gave them notice that I was leaving, and I never heard back from anyone," he says. "Finally, in the end, I left my keys on the floor of the apartment. My rent invoices continued to come."

After struggling through the company's automated customer service system and finally reaching a human being, Smith says, she couldn't help him. "She said, 'I'm sorry. We can't help you. You're not in our system. You're no longer a tenant.' And I said, 'You're right!' "

Kron drew on a wealth of similar stories to write The Veri**on Play. She researched customer service relations and even case law, and peppered the script with facts. At one point, a character quotes a 1978 Supreme Court decision relating to the regulation of credit card offers.

Les Waters, artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville, says he thinks Kron's play is hilarious. "I think she is one of the smartest people that I know," he adds. "She's very intelligent, very funny, and very compassionate."

The Veri**on Play has been playing to nearly sold-out crowds at the Humana Festival. "I have come to realize that there is nothing that people identify with more strongly than a customer service nightmare," Kron says. "It's up there with birth and death."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Playwright Lisa Kron has mined her own life to create her work. She wrote a play about being the child of a Holocaust survivor and another about her mother's activism and struggles with chronic illness. Kron's latest play is currently getting its world premier at the Humana Festival of New American Plays, at Actors Theatre of Louisville. And it, too, draws on her own experiences, but it's an experience shared by millions of people.

Elizabeth Kramer tells us more.

ELIZABETH KRAMER, BYLINE: Lisa Kron had a problem with her telephone company's customer service.

LISA KRON: And I found myself screaming at this person: I'm going to write a play about this. And there was a little bit of a beat, and what I perceived the person on the other end of the phone doing was sort of shrugging and saying, you know, go ahead, knock yourself out.

KRAMER: So Kron did, and she stars in it.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "THE VERI**ON PLAY")

KRAMER: You heard right. That's Ferizon with an F.

KRON: But it's a little bit more ambiguous in the title.

KRAMER: In the title, it's spelled V-E-R-I, then two asterisks, O-N. Her cast members were quick to offer their own customer service nightmares. One was Clayton Dean Smith.

CLAYTON DEAN SMITH: My apartment building was purchased by a developer, one of the colossal real estate corporations. I gave them notice that I was leaving, and I never heard back from anyone. Finally, in the end, I left my keys on the floor of the apartment. My rent invoices continued to come. When I called the automated system and finally eventually managed to get a hold of a human, she said, I'm sorry. We can't help you. You're not in our system. You are no longer a tenant. And I said, you're right.

KRAMER: Kron drew on stories like this. She researched customer service relations and even case law, and she peppers her play with facts.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "THE VERI**ON PLAY")

LES WATERS: I thought it was hilarious when I read it.

KRAMER: That's Les Waters, the artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville. He got to know Kron two years ago when her play "In The Wake" had a run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where Waters was associate director.

WATERS: I think she's one of the smartest people that I know. She's very intelligent, very funny and very compassionate. And it's like being in the presence of a great mind going at breakneck speed.

KRAMER: At the Humana Festival, Kron's newest work has been playing to nearly sold out crowds.

KRON: I have come to realize that there is nothing people identify with more strongly than a customer service nightmare. And it's up there with birth and death.

KRAMER: And as with those two momentous life events, there's very little you can do once you're put on hold. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Kramer in Louisville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.