BWW Reviews: NSFW: THE OFFICE PLAYS - Where OFFICE SPACE Meets SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
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by David Clarke
Big Head Productions is presenting their third evening of short plays. This collection of plays, some from local artists, all have an office theme. The set is four cubicles, cut to allow the audience to see through them and into the other cubicles. Each cubicle is sprinkled with drawn on post-its and other items of office boredom inspired artwork. On the whole, the evening plays out like a fusion of Mike Judge's Office Space and an episode of Saturday Night Live. Like the skits on Saturday Night Light, some of the plays stand out as stronger works than the others, but all are entertaining.
THE GENESIS PROJECT written by Christian Simonsen and directed by Leighza Walker is a strong opening to the evening. The assembled cast of four works well together, but Robert Meza's sardonic, witty portrayal of Angel 4 makes the show. This is a fun comedy about four angels being tasked with planning the creation of the universe. When they receive their project, they are told they God expects them to come up with a plan to create the world in six days.
42 by Leighza Walker and directed by Amy Pope is about a woman turning 42 and looking to spice her life up. The stand out performer in this play is Danielle Bunch's Ev'Lyn who manages to actually work while the rest jabber around her. Then at the climax of the play she offers her opinion of what the newly 42-year-old Becky, played well by Leighza Walker, could incorporate into her life.
Randi Hall's TALKING TO WALLS is directed by Tom Stell. In my opinion, this play could have taken place anywhere, and having it in a more public place than afterhours at an office may have made it a bit more thrilling and exciting. It seems if there was a true risk of being overheard, that the play would be stronger. Tom Stell has directed the two actresses well, ensuring that their emotions do soar in the piece and engage the audience. I would have liked to see more movement on the stage though. The cubicles kept the women static. Both Clarity Welch and Sarah Heddins do fantastic jobs with their assigned roles. This play has great depth, dealing with issues discussed in Women's Studies classes and the Queer Theory branch of literary criticism.
Anna Julia directs AND THEN THEY CAME FOR ME by Abby Koenig. This play examines the two-faced nature of working in an office because as soon as someone is gone the remaining members of the cast talk badly about the person. Individualized calls to the conference room for a layoff signals each cast member's exit, making it fun for the audience to see who will get fired next. Allen Titel's Mark stands out for being sublimely sarcastic and then breaking down when his number is called.
Brian Heaton's HOW DO YOU LIKE SQUIRREL NOW?, directed by Leighza Walker, is a shock-value comedy that provides interesting insight into the motives behind office place violence. Gene Kato's bitter and psychologically broken Stan is tired of being called Squirrel, so he brings a gun to work so he can kill his co-workers. A group of his co-workers help him plan his morbid retribution, leaving the audience laughing at the dark comedy.
THE ORIGIN STORY OF LEWIS HACKETT by Ron Burch and directed by Leighza Walker is a fantastic examination of office space gossip. As three coworkers gossip about Lewis Hackett and how he got his promotion, two actors play Lewis and the boss. Lewis and the boss bring to life their incredulously exaggerated stories, leaving the audience smirking and laughing. Norm Dillon, Sarah Heddins, Amy Warren, Robert Meza, and Tom Stell all deliver fantastic portrayals of their characters in the play, really selling this story to the audience. Leighza Waker's direction keeps the pacing moving at a perfect pace and superbly utilizes the space on the stage as well.
Duncan Pflaster's SECRET SANTA, directed by Jon Harvey, is my favorite work in the bunch. It is a hysterical pastiche of clichéd office stereotypes all forced into the same Christmas party where madcap craziness ensues. Standout performances include Clarity Welch's hyper sexualized Christmas song, Anna Julia's awkward caT Loving lady that annoys the others, and Michael Weems ranting Daniel after he thinks he has won the lottery. While some of the antics may play as shocking for the sake of shock value, Jon Harvey's direction makes it work and leaves the audience laughing and uttering, "wow!"
Alex Dremann's ON THE FLOOR directed by Tom Stell showcases how downhearted the mundane can make us. Tom Stell spends the play lying on the floor, refusing or unable to move because of how deeply his melancholia has affected him. Amy Warren tries desperately to coax him off the floor. The piece is well acted, but when compared to the others picked for the showcase, it is not wholly memorable.
In THE INTERVIEW, both written and directed by Tom Stell, Sarah Heddins plays a woman trying to get a job. As we see her character unravel through hearing her thoughts (pre-recorded audio clips that are played between her spoken lines), we see a woman reminiscent of Jenelle Evans from Teen Mom 2 try to impress an employer and land a job that she is clearly not suitable for. This comical piece is just as witty as it is intentionally and delightfully trashy.
Peter Wittenberg, Jr.'s HERO is directed by Tom Stell. To me, this piece played awkwardly. As Leighza Walker's Martha strips to prove to Michael Raabe's Harold how constricting working in an office is, I couldn't help but feel like Harold myself. I just couldn't understand the characters motivation or desire to strip off her clothing. Likewise, the climax is not a surprise as early on it feels like it is the only viable ending to the piece.
Set design and light design works well for the pieces. There were technical issues during what was supposed to be blackouts with the lights at the performance I attended, but the large cast just kept moving forward with the performance, not letting the spastic lights detract them from doing their jobs with the utmost professionalism.
When an organization decides to do an evening of short plays, obviously others will appeal more to different people. With that being said, out of this group of ten, I am fairly certain that every adult audience member can relate to many of the situations in this collection of plays. I was often reminded of when I worked as a student assistant in a Sam Houston State University office by several of the shows presented. Then, I found myself being thankful and somewhat jealous that my office experiences have been limited so far in my life. For me, the best show was SECRET SANTA. My second favorite was THE ORIGIN STORY OF LEWIS HACKETT. And HOW DO YOU LIKE THE SQUIRREL NOW? and THE GENESIS PROJECT tie for my third favorite position.
Big Head Production's NSFW: THE OFFICE PLAYS runs at Obsidian Art Space through December 22, 2012. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.obsidianartspace.org or call (832) 889 – 7837.All photos by Leighza Walker, courtesy of Big Head Productions.