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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
by Les Gutman
In "The Thugs," playwright Adam Bock revisits the workplace that he considered in his first play that came to our attention, The Typographer's Dream. Unlike that play, however, the characters in this one have no careers -- they are temps droning away at the most banal imaginable work in a back office of a law firm. Their jobs are not really the topic here (though their work circumstance is certainly mined for a great deal of humor). The subject is rumor and gossip in the office, and how those forces can victimize getting the job done.
This play might have been called "Things That Go Bump In The Day" or "A Series of Unfortunate Events". As it is, it's called The Thugs, a title which, like much of what's contained therein, is an enigma.
I can't say The Thugs is less than entertaining, but I'm also not prepared to say it's a play. Clocking in at just under an hour, it feels more like an inchoate idea in which ellipsis is the main virtue. Bock and director Anne Kaufman do a fine job of defining characters, but far too much of the play seems to arrive from nowhere and then go nowhere. Perhaps creating a prevailing state of mind onstage constitutes theater, but it's ultimately unsatisfying. Unlike Typographer's Dream, from which we left wondering about ourselves, here we just leave wondering.
Diane (Carmen Herlihy) is the office taskmaster -- a stickler for timeliness, attentiveness and detail. It would be hard enough maintaining order in this environment without some of the challenges her charges present. Elaine (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) can't seem to get her cell phone off her mind, and is forever on edge; Mercedes (Mary Shultz), who looks like perhaps she should be a middle school librarian, is a mumbling mess with her own set of inexplicable demons and a built-in trigger for Elaine. Mary (Lynne McCollough) is a displaced Mainer who retains the Down East economy of speech, Daphne (Keira Keeley) prides herself on the avoidance of work and has a mysterious banker boyfriend (Chris Heuisler) with some unexplained albeit nefarious problem that presents itself briefly at the office, Chantal (Maria Elena Ramirez) is the office newcomer and Bart (Brad Heberlee) is the only male in the office but nonetheless one of the girls. There have been two deaths (maybe killings, maybe not) in the building lately, and that's topic number one on everyone's mind, even though no one has any real information to share. And that's about it.
The acting is consistently excellent. The standout is Mary Shultz, who has a ball making Mercedes a piece of work.
David Korins' set is a remarkably fastidious reproduction of a generic office including its own elevator! Ben Stanton's lighting is consistent with that mundane environment -- heavy on fluorescent and nicely blacked out for scene changes and a spooky blackout (though it's not clear why the ambient outdoor light from the windows also blacks out when the power fails). Michelle Phillips has designed very believable costumes for each of the characters, and the sound design of Robert Kaplowitz and Jeremy Lee is first rate.
It's too bad all of this fine work doesn't help make The Thugs add up to much. In the end (which comes abruptly and, as noted, awfully quickly), there's not much of interest.
The Typographer's Dream
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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