Monday, May 4, 2009

Offices (Atlantic Theatre Company)

By Molly
three short plays • brilliant cast • consistently chuckle-inducing • high-quality production value • written by Ethan Coen (of film duo the Coen Brothers)

BOTTOM LINE: A witty and entertaining 80 intermission-less minutes. It doesn't leave you with much to think about after, but sometimes amusing escapism is quite enough.

Offices is a new play by esteemed screenwriter Ethan Coen (who, with brother Joel, has penned Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country For Old Men, to name a few). The Coen Brothers' movies are usually action-packed funny dramas, with a tendency toward absurd, character-driven plots involving average folk. Put Ethan's playwriting skills to the test and it seems that he retains much of that intent for the stage. Offices is about the banal existance of people who work for the man and the inane antics that can come with it.

Always relatable and often exaggerated, Offices takes the audience through three different stories, all involving people in an office setting. The cast of 11 play one or two characters through the evening, although there is never any plot or character overlap through the three plays; each play stands on its own with its own inside jokes and nuanced circumstances. But the consistent theme of idiocy in the workplace rings through all of the plays. The characters just want to be respected for their work (Elliot in Peer Review), find justice after getting fired (Beck in Struggle Session) or simply find their briefcase (Munro in Homeland Security). And it's with these situations that we can all relate, especially those of us who have previously worked in a cube farm.

Offices is all in all a successful night of entertainment. I'm pretty sure I giggled through the entire 80 minutes, although I'm not sure I guffawed more than once or twice. The play's strength is in the cast and the actors' understanding of Coen's (and director Neil Pepe's) message. Many of the actors in Offices shared a stage in Coen's last theatrical endeavor, Almost An Evening, which played at both Atlantic Theatre Company as well as the Bleecker Street Theatre last year. Almost an Evening was structurally similar to Offices; it also consisted of three short plays and utilized its cast for more than one play. Unlike Offices though, Almost An Evening didn't have an overhanging theme which tied the production together. But it was, in many ways, more clever and wittier than Offices (I was a huge fan of Almost An Evening, you can read my review of the show here).

Truly, the cast of Offices is fantastic. Standouts include Joey Slotnick, F. Murray Abraham, Aya Cash and John Bedford Lloyd, although it's really unfair to pick and choose since all actors are perfectly cast in their particular roles and work cohesively with one another. And they all get Coen's intelligent yet understated humor to a tee. Plus, you can tell they're having a freaking great time up there, and it's always fun to watch actors enjoying themselves. Although I assume that F. Murray Abraham would be an entertaining bum even if the actor was having a bad day, it was still a delight to watch him enjoy the company of his peers onstage.

So with a stellar cast and a witty script in the vein of The Office, or Office Space, or even American Dad at times, this play is one worth your time and money. I didn't walk away from the experience with anything other than a general sense of contentment, having been entertained for a good while, but sometimes that's enough. And it's certainly more gratifying than having lessons or opinions shoved down your throat. Coen understands the humanity that connects us all, and it's through those stories and exaggerated scenarios that we can all share the joy that is live theatre (before we have to go back to our respective day jobs, that is).

(Offices plays through June 7th at Atlantic Theatre Company, 336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm and 7pm. Tickets are $ them at Use discount code PLAYOFF and get tickets for $49.50. For more show info visit

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