By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Dull jobs in dreary surroundings have inspired many a wonderful play: David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, set in a rundown sales office; Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan's Mister Roberts, about bored sailors on a WWII supply ship; Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, the granddaddy of all dramas about soul-sucking professions.
Little hints of those, along with some good old Jerry Lewis slapstick moves, the pace of Bugs Bunny and the spank-porn hotness of the movie Secretary have found their way into Good Nuts, a wacky new workplace comedy written and directed by Kevin Grammer, part of the creative team at the 40-seat Ochre House theater in Exposition Park.
"The Worker," played with a constant "WTF?" look by Trent Stephenson, arrives a few minutes late to his new job in a tiny, windowless office where a salesman (Brian Witkowitcz), an office manager (Carla Parker) and a receptionist (Marti Etheridge) share three sides of one desk. Not sure what he's been hired to do or even what the name of the company is — each time the receptionist answers the phone she gives the place a different title — the Worker waits to be given tasks. But the office manager's shouted instructions about coffee making and filing are bafflingly ambiguous. And when the others are out of sight, the receptionist heaves herself at the new hire in ways that underscore the need for a firm sexual harassment policy.
If you've ever done time as a temp or low-rung clerk, the setting for Good Nuts, also designed by Grammer, might induce flashbacks. Above the little stage, a couple of fluorescent lights cast their sickly green glow onto the actors. In the corner, a clock runs counterclockwise. Upstage, piles of cardboard file boxes keep threatening to avalanche. And on the overhead screen, the Boss (Ben Bryant) beams in, each time with a different foreign accent, to demand that his minions supply "good nuts" when he arrives for a pre-arranged "surprise inspection."
Grammer's fast-moving, overlapping dialogue captures the mind-numbing banalities that fill workplace convos, all that empty talk about how much work there is that needs doing and how everyone's so busy-busy-busy. Then Grammer lets it get weird, with the office manager stripping down to dominatrix-wear and cracking an actual bullwhip to demand her employees' attention. The salesman proves to be a part-time pederast, and the nympho-receptionist can be heard loudly self-pleasuring. (Ah, just another day at Trump International.)
It's all absurdly entertaining. At the end Grammer lets the Boss sum up the current state of the American workplace by reminding wage slaves that "There are no good jobs anymore ... where the boss is nice and coworkers actually enjoy working together. Nobody cares about the workers, who you are and where you came from." So true.
Hey, Ochre House, nice work.