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Sweet, crispy crust on a cross...
---Genny aka Jane
Evan Casey and Marybeth Fritzky
E. Casey and M. Fritzky
Dan Dietz' dark comedy tempOdyssey, now playing at Studio Theatre's 2ndstage, is less about dysfunctional work environments, black holes and chicken strangling than about the quest to cope with a sense of disempowerment at the hands of a seemingly capricious Cosmos. The playwright uses temping, astronomy and poultry farming as an allegory for the feeling we can't outrun ourselves and the energetic fates which seem to follow us, no matter how hard we may strive to change or escape them. Hence the title of Dietz' work: whether we are temps or not, we each at some point feel our lives are some sort of Olympian test, an odyssey that we have no control over.

Dietz has just dressed up the age old question a bit with talking corpses, sage-like temp goddesses and a graphic description of how one skillfully and painlessly kills chickens by hand. It all makes for some great fun, especially if you can identify with dysfunctional work environments, insecure and bullying bosses and the desire to occasionally go postal on your co-workers.

Dietz' basic plot is that Genny started killing chickens when she was eight years old and due to her natural skill at strangling, she made herself and her family's chicken farm famous in the tri-state region. And while her father assured her the birds felt no pain, she is appalled at her role in the birds' deaths. The fact that she enjoyed killing the animals only adds to her guilt -- to the point where she can't get their little beady eyes our of her head and can't help thinking about them every time she grasps a stair rail or other slender item with her hand. Added to this disturbing background is the odd coincidence that the people she gets angry at seem to end up with throat cancer, asthma and other deadly throat infirmities. In short, she is a basket case waiting to explode and today, at her new temp assignment, is the day she is going to blow.

Having fled Atlanta, she's settled in Seattle ("the anti-Atlanta"), and leads a life of seclusion and anonymity. But like Odysseus, Genny is put to the test one morning at a new assignment and provoked to anger by a fellow temp. The Jim to her Jane (nicknames for the male and female temps) is a fast talking, arrogant fellow who does as little work as possible while being wooed by the company execs to come on board.

Director Christopher Gallu and his team have created an interesting comedy that is well-timed and has an interesting assortment of visual effects as it melds the diverse worlds of astrophysics, agribusiness and administrative support professionals. Set designer Misha Kachman's other world melding of life, death and space is fun with long filing cabinets that resemble a morgue, tree limbs reaching out of walls and forlorn looking office cubicles. Sound designer William Burns' use of different versions of "The Girl from Ipanema" puts all the focus on Genny. And Debra Kim Sivigny's costumes add to the skewed reality factor with their comic book-esque quality.

In the title role of Genny, Marybeth Fritzky gives us a distraught, yet somewhat demonic co-worker from Hell. She especially excels at bouncing back and forth between Chicken Stranglin' Genny and New Improved Genny, while also making us sympathize with the character while we are at the same time repulsed by her murderous tendencies.

Evan Casey is a dream as Dead Body Boy (Jim the Temp). Jumping about the stage, he seems to truly enjoy his characters narcissistic, psychopathic, anti-social tendencies. And Mr. Evans ability to drop a line or give an inside glance to the audience adds to the part's humor.

Appearing as a Gwen Stefani-like temp goddess, Misty Demory is other-worldly as Fran, the unflappable "Temp of Temps" who has disappeared into Temp Immortality. (An ironic oxymoron.) She also gives us a foul mouthed last Day Girl and cantankerous Mama.

As Genny's proud papa, Kevin Boggs is a happily self-interested Daddy more concerned with being a wealthy chicken farmer than with his daughter's burgeoning mental crisis. The fact that he is outfitted in rhinestones gives him a nutty country western singer appeal.

And as Nepotism Guy, Cameron McNary is the insane boss so many of us have unfortunately experienced. While he's angsting about a broken pencil, we're wondering how he got his job.

Not entirely a perfect a play, tempOdyssey could help us be more empathetic to Genny's situation earlier in the production. It isn't until Act Two, when she reveals how traumatized she is from the chicken blood letting, that you really sympathize with her plight. That said, Dietz' writing is clever and sarcastic; he has a pulse on work environments and the human dynamic minefields that go with them; and he clearly understands how we all have those moments of feeling overwhelmed by our pasts, presents and futures. So if you're in the midst of changing jobs...or just started a job...or are tired of your job...or are dealing with a wacko boss...or are about to be laid off from a job...or have already been laid off from your job...tempOdyssey may be the play for you. Cheaper than therapy and twice as funny.

by Dan Dietz
Directed by Christopher Gallu
with Marybeth Fritzky, Evan Casey, Misty Demory, Cameron McNary and Kevin Boggs
Set Design: Misha Kachman
Sound Design: William Burns
Lighting Design: John Burkland
Costume Design: Debra Kim Sivigny
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW
Telephone: 202-332-3300
WED - SAT @8:30, SUN @7:30; $29
Opening 12/06/06, closing 12/31/06
Reviewed by Rich See based on 12/10/06 performance
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© 2006  Elyse Sommer.