The stronger (or simply more relatable) of the two mainstage Stadttheater* productions, Slipped Disc - A Study of the Upright Walk looks at the inner lives of five office drones. The conclusion, which is also the impetus for the entire show, is that the modern worker is an emasculated creature, one who lives by the will of their whimsical and often cruel boss. Quitting, in the world of Slipped Disc, would accomplish nothing: they'd simply be unemployed (for there is no shortage of labor). And so these five people lap up humiliation after humiliation, all of which is artfully displayed by literal knives in the back or metaphorical displays of pathos that include eating toilet paper (i.e., shit). When they return to their office floor (where they are surrounded on two sides by audience members), they quickly take it out on each other, defining themselves by the cruelties they inflict on others.
For instance, Kretzky (a suave Sanjit De Silva) laughs off every little embarrassment as if it's a joke, and it's a pleasure to watch his smiling facade dissolve as he gloats in one aside about how he'll get his co-workers fired. (The delight is watching this second layer of reality, the one we normally repress, rise to the surface.) Hufschmidt (John Summerour), on the other hand, physically abuses the others, in particular Kruse (a gleefully pathetic Ron Domingo), before he too loses his facade, at one point devolving into a growling dog. Schmitt and Kristensen (Danielle Skraastad and Andrea Ciannavei) play the two women: one confident and belittling, the other hopeful yet hopeless. The contrasts are well illustrated by director Simone Blattner, who artfully makes the action too close for comfort.
Much as this violence is admirable, Blattner has a habit for belaboring certain points. Those uncomfortable moments where a joke has gone on for too long often stretch on (and on) into the artificial. It isn't viscerally uncomfortable, it's just dull. For example, when Kristensen gathers the characters together to air their complaints, the five actors stand there, silent and complacent, as if running out a clock rather than actually having nothing to say. (This is also how the play opens: to sit down, you must walk across the stage, around the immobile actors, and onto an elevated portion of the set.) Ingrid Lausund's script (translated by Henning Bochert) isn't very deep to begin with; attempting to draw a deeper significance out of it, or to make the words (or lack thereof) more resonant doesn't always work. But when it does (mostly if an actor's charisma sustains it), it's effective: Kruse's lengthy acceptance of the fact that Hufschmidt slaps him around for no reason grows more and more pathetic, until we are drowning in pity.
We can easily be any one of these spineless characters (thankfully, none are caricatures), and Slipped Disc does well to remind us that we can more easily talk our way into acceptance of circumstance than out of a situation.
*Stadttheater is a mini-festival going on at the HERE Arts Center through May, featuring talk-backs, symposiums, and staged readings of new works, as well as another play, The Woman Before, also a US premiere.
HERE Arts Center (145 Avenue of the Americas)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00
Performances: Varying evenings at 8:30 (in Repertoire with The Woman Before)
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.