Can't all of us, regardless of our profession, recognize most of the main ingredients in the recipe of any dystopian office comedy or drama? Start with a healthy helping of the following: An unseen, Orwellian boss; monstrous middle-managers; yapping yes-men; and suicidal wage slaves. Then, for additional flavor, add a shake of mistaken identity, a few dashes of violence, and a pinch or two of sex. Voilą!
Been there, ordered that? Who hasn't? No matter how often these archetypal characters and situations collide like bumper cars in the hellish amusement park of a nondescript, nine-to-five, workaday world, they're going to retain at least some relevance. The same can be said of Charlotte Meehan's Work, which just opened downstairs at the Flea Theater. Relevance it has in abundance; original ideas are in much shorter supply.
After all, what new is there to say about work? It's a necessity; it's a nuisance. At some point, just about everyone has been trapped in a job that offered less than it took. And even those lucky enough to immediately land in an ideal career have had to cope with politics and personality conflicts. But, technology aside, the office environment itself hasn't changed much in the last few decades, and movies and television shows dedicated to exploring its humorous and harrying mysteries have glutted the market of interest for all but the freshest of concepts.
Jim Simpson's direction of this play is edgy and energetic, utilizing lengthy symphonies of computer keyboard clacking and actors that are constantly moved about like checkers in the final, frantic stages of a game. But the contributions he can make are limited; while there are opportunities for unique lighting effects (Joe Novak engineered the flickering fluorescents that institutionalize the tiny playing space) and soundscapes (the piercing work of Greg Duffin) there are only so many ways to stage Meehan's cutthroat conceptualization of corporate dehumanization.
And there are only so many ways to play characters that are little more than types. The three drones are Mary Ann (Nicola Barber), Barry Honey (Parrish Hurley), and Hope Less (Audrey Lynn Weston), or, respectively, the self-absorbed siren, the bootlicker, and despondency personified. Michael Diskint plays Mackerel MM, their lecherous supervisor; Adeel Akhtar plays Mackerel's; and Kerry-Jayne Wilson plays Laura L. Boss, who's at the top of the ladder and has hit the glass ceiling.
What happens? Does it matter? Mackerel learns his lesson when the object of his affections sinks her teeth into his problems with sexual harassment; upper-management is threatened by a scandal, which eventually results in a restructuring of the company; there's a sensitivity training seminar held for these people because, well, they need it; and the events surrounding the climax include a handgun, a surprise unmasking, attempted ritual cannibalism, a nose orgy, and a plate of chocolates.
Yes, Work gets more interesting as it goes along, and that is to Meehan's credit. But more of her eccentric style is needed at the beginning of the play, to better establish the wacky atmosphere and give the actors more opportunities for individualization. While everyone does well once Meehan opens the floodgates of lunacy, the only notable, specific feature of the performances early on is Diskint's vicious, arched eyebrow, which helps frame the gaze of laser-beam intensity Mackerel uses to keep his unruly employees in line.
Meehan would do well to bring similar focus and creativity to her writing; the quality of her quips is best typified by the company's motto, "There are no parasites, only worms," which is funny for at most five seconds. But that's five seconds longer than most of her insight registers: Her messages don't extend much beyond "office life can be rough" and "nepotism is bad," which have been said elsewhere in more inventive ways. "What we need around here is some beauty," a character says at one point; a similar philosophy would only benefit Work.