Opening Nights: 99 Layoffs

Desperately seeking work and romance.

Sitting pretty in the pack of excellent theater options this summer, Vincent Delaney's new play is a must-see for comedy fans. From the title, I feared a pseudo–Michael Moore documentary. Instead, I was delighted to find an absurd (but coherent) romance in which two job-seekers chronically leapfrog over and around each other in pursuit of the one gig available at any given time. Their hellish double helix of ambition and disaffection spans numerous jobs and provides the strong thematic spine so many modern plays lack. It also lends an urgent, Odets-like cri de coeur in the face of a seriously unfair economy. While never preachy, 99 Layoffs is relentlessly one-sided: Corporate life turns managers into monsters and the managed into indentured serfs.

Leads K. Brian Neel and Aimée Bruneau are perfectly cast for their plasticity and—how else to put it?—interestingness. As Orson, Neel liquefies his entire body into a puddle on the floor every time he has to shake an interviewer's hand. In one memorable temp gig, he diddles odd disco moves while wearing a giant frosted and sprinkled doughnut-hole costume (kudos to costumer Julia Evanovich for the nightmare-inducing getup). As Louella (plus various smaller roles), Bruneau keeps it real, but not predictable. Even in the vignettes where Louella and Orson exchange e-mails about their shrinking dreams and growing despair, her subtle facial expressions precision-steer like a Lotus—a godsend for director David Gassner, given Delaney's penchant for mercurial mood shifts.

Produced and commissioned by Radial Theater Project, the show uses amusing video clips of job-seekers to fill the downtime during set and costume changes, but they're redundant. We already know we're in a recession, which makes 99 Layoffs fine entertainment for those of us in the 99 percent.

 
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