Disgruntled Employees | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Disgruntled Employees 

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Disgruntled Employees, Terrapin Theatre, at the Athenaeum Theatre. All of the elements are here for a wonderful dark comedy: a high-pressure work environment--the sorting area of a post office--and an assortment of eccentrics and losers, all ready to pop off. Add to this setting the resentment many audience members feel toward a postal service that's increasingly slow, unreliable, and expensive, and you'd seem to have the formula for a hit.

But Kevin Crowley's play disappoints. A supple writer and performer when he was at Second City in the late 80s and early 90s, he hasn't managed to transcend his sketch-comedy roots. Again and again he goes for quick, cheap laughs, in the process undercutting the deeper tones of his play. Similarly, his thin characters--the violence-prone loner, the easily angered coworker, the horny, unpopular girl--are tailor-made for five- to ten-minute scenes but become predictable long before intermission.

Equally damaging is Anna Bahow's direction. Seemingly unable to decide whether Disgruntled Employees is a serious play with comic touches or a comic play with serious moments, she gives us the worst of both genres: slow pacing and sitcom shallowness. There are some great comic moments, and at least one moving scene, as a young employee (sweetly played by Nick Lewis) waxes poetical about the importance of the mail service. But it's not enough to keep the audience from becoming just as disgruntled as Crowley's employees.

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