Below The Belt | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Below The Belt 

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Below The Belt, American Theater Company. Soulless corporate culture is hardly the freshest topic for satire. And what took Harold Pinter only a few pages to skewer takes Richard Dresser the better part of two hours in this absurdist Dilbert cartoon exposing the emptiness and loneliness inherent in white-collar work. Three morsels on the corporate food chain--the cynical drone Hanrahan, the eager-to-please newcomer Dobbitt, and their fickle boss Merkin--work at an industrial site in an unnamed foreign country. Slaves to senseless drudgery, vying for one another's favor and attention, they long for freedom yet cling together out of the fear that they're "all alone in this godforsaken desert," as one character puts it.

Existential angst blends with rapid-fire dialogue and slapstick comedy as Dresser attacks corporate hierarchies and the dubious ethics of capitalism. In some of the play's least subtle yet funniest moments, the trio find themselves in a hellish nightmare in which industrial rivers catch fire and bloodthirsty beasts, represented by menacing yellow cats' eyes, advance on them.

This American Theater Company production, directed by Ed Sobel, has a metronomic pace that establishes the corporate world's mechanistic rhythms but destroys any dramatic nuance. Despite Tim Steimle's clever set and three effective performances--especially from John Sterchi, who manages to find humanity in the acerbic Hanrahan--Dresser's monotonous script and familiar arguments ultimately make this seem a bloated skit.

--Adam Langer

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