New York City Theater
Atlantic Theater Company
If Ethan Coen has it right, Kafka is alive and well and living in a nearby office building. At least that’s the impression to be had from “Offices,” his three slight, occasionally amusing but evanescent one-act plays. Coen who, with brother Joel has made terrific films (“Miller’s Crossing,” “Barton Fink,” “Fargo, “No Country for Old Men”), here imagines offices as dens of iniquity, betrayal, paranoia and inexplicable events.
The first play, “”Peer Review,” concerns Elliot, an employee given a negative evaluation without quite knowing why. Feeling like a pariah, he creeps from room to room, never belonging, feeling laughed at and belittled and believing he was fired for “knowing how things work around here.” By that he means certain lewd acts best not elaborated on. Filled with scatology, the work has a modicum of bite and wit.
The second, “Homeland Security,” revolves around a misplaced (stolen? lost?) briefcase with an animate life. Its owner, a bureaucratic type, seemingly has it all: wife, family, good job. But mysterious forces are out to get him, eventually driving him round the bend.
In the third, “Struggle Session,” a worker is let go for using incorrect figures. “Why am I being fired?” he asks. “It’s the pattern,” he’s enigmatically told. Along the way, a bum takes his place but proves so foul-mouthed that he’s quickly fired, too. “I still have a street corner to go back to,” he says, “and a soul.”
Though not much more than sketches, the plays show Coen’s juxtaposition of horror and comedy, sort of “Fargo” in a soulless high rise. He even has one character say, “Don’t call me Kafka. Call me nameless interrogator.”
Directed with his usual snap by Neil Pepe, it features crackling performances by F. Murray Abraham and John Bedford Lloyd. Coen is a singular talent, but “Offices” is ever so slight and its pleasures are intermittent.
-- David A. Rosenberg
May 27, 2009