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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 46
Suffering, Inc. falls short
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Suffering, Inc. falls short

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

SUFFERING, INC.
WASHINGTON HALL
THROUGH NOVEMBER 19


Exploring methods of connecting classic writers to modern culture is a great idea. Pony World Theatre (www.ponyworld.org), an itinerant theater company that attempts unique productions, is presenting a brand-new work using only words written by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. They've taken these words out of the context of their classic plays and set them into a play about a modern-day office.

The faux company is New Life Capital, purporting to solve all your financial problems in one place, while you do none of the work. Cold-call salespeople (particularly David Gassner and Carrie Cates) chant their introductory pitch over and over, mostly to hang-ups and negative responses. Immediately, there is a clear poetic connection and a rhythmic thrum, though it does not necessarily elevate the experience to enjoyment. In fact, it might so successfully emulate many people's experience of the rhythm in today's offices that it could turn you off.

The program explains that the company (unnamed members of Pony World Theatre, though the main person connected to the company is playwright and director Brendan Healy) has 'mined Chekhov's five major plays' for every line spoken onstage. Let's imagine that any set of five plays by one person can be mined for contextually disconnected content and a new play made. They successfully put the lines back together into a real story of an office, but does it elevate the story to do so?

The venue is Washington Hall, a newly available building for theatrical events, but seriously in need of renovation. Historic Seattle obtained the building in 2009 and is working on in it phases of renovation, the first of which - make it safe - is basically completed. The Lodge Room is where this play is staged, where three desk arrangements and a cubicled corner office comprise the set. Overhead lighting is used in an interesting way, but there is as yet no theatrical lighting. It's a great idea for a multi-focused theatrical presentation. Sometimes several things are going on at once.

However, it's way too spread out for the play, and at times you can't hear what the actors are saying given the direction they're facing. The intentionally suffocating atmosphere could be improved by squishing the playing area and gathering the audience much more tightly around it.

Martin Dinn plays a stereotypical bullying office manager/employer who disdains cautious advice from Ricky Coates, a tree-hugging financial analyst. Gassner is the old-man employee with one more year before official retirement who has slipped into almost total non-productivity. Cates is hopelessly in love with Coates, demonstrating a recurrent theme in Chekhov.

Megan Jackson plays an imperious higher-up who doesn't care about anyone and doesn't understand why people don't like her. Adria LaMorticella is the young receptionist who unaccountably falls for Dinn, yet keeps the sunniest attitude of them all. Valerie Mannucci is a strange employee who is so bored that she grows old in front of us, aging from 27 to 55+, though her later portrayals are so unfortunately stereotypical that she should be 85, not 55.

Somewhat typical of ensemble-driven pieces, there are two endings rather than one, and the first ending is the best. When the inevitable firing of Gassner's old man occurs, he can reasonably be expected to come back with a gun - well, reasonable in the context of this play - and shoot everyone. By that point, that ending would work well to sum up the evening. However, it doesn't. The audience has to suffer just a little more.

For more information, go to www.ponyworld.org or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/203738, or call 800-838-3006.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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