Review by Ellen Wernecke
Work is hell. Fumes of boredom sweep over the characters like the clouds of smoke in the break room in “Smoke and Mirrors,” a world premiere at the Flea Theatre. Forget “Waiting for Godot”; these characters are condemned to a limbo with only the space to complain -- and not even that.
And complain they do with the help of Joseph Goodrich’s acutely true-to-life script about an office whose exact business is never made clear. Anita (Susan Hyon) was already having a bad day when she got to work, so when she decides to unleash a screaming tirade about her boss in the break room, she can do it between ceiling-bound puffs of smoke. “Didn’t do anything,” she says about the weekend, “but at least I wasn’t here right?” The break room is where everyone goes to unload their husbands who later became women or their dead pets -- except for that one woman in the corner (Jocelyn Kuritsky) who is always writing and never talks.
Too bad what happens in the break room doesn’t stay in the break room. After an argument breaks out over the miniature flags in the free cupcakes, Terry (Jason Dirden) refuses to back down when Drew (Stas May), clad in a bloodstained coat for most of the show, objects to his burning a drawing of a stick figure labeled “President.” Security guards Moses (Ben Horner) and Tammie (Aurelia Lavizzo) are convinced Anita has had something to do with a politically inflammatory document calling out the U.S. for its behavior as a world power -- but was it being forwarded around the office, or is it just a pretext to “reassign” (in other words, fire) Anita? (She thinks it’s about a dirty office joke.)
The oblique way in which “Smoke and Mirrors” gets at issues larger than the tedium of office work, the petit pettiness of paper shuffling, mimics the way the paranoia of national security has trickled down to the hoi polloi. And it’s the building security in the end which prevents Anita from doing what she has been forced to do in the first place, in an exquisitely agonizing scene that displays Hyon’s fury. “Bombast will be used to manipulate its wary, frightened citizens,” reads the document which is used to make today Anita’s last day at work, but the same could be said for the business whose break room becomes a battleground.
“Smoke and Mirrors”
Featuring The Bats, resident company
The Flea Theater, 41 White St.
Through June 2
Tickets $20, TheFlea.org