middlemen @ Walkerspace, New York

cast list
Christopher Burns, Michael Crane

directed by
Josie Whittlesey

The new play middlemen, by David Jenkins, operates within the gray areas office life, where laughter is equal parts good-natured bonhomie, forced exercise of authority, and manic response, where a day at the office is both a refuge from home life and a constant fight for dominance. It operates in the passive aggressive annoyances and the artificial forced friendships that make up the workday in an office. In furthering this metaphor, the play physically takes place in the middle of the stage space, with actors on both sides of the stage.

The play revolves around the story of two office workers, Christopher Burns as Stan and Michael Crane as Michael, stuck in a downsizing firm. How these two men react to the random changes and the ghost town that begins to comprise their office, is what drives the play forward at the start of the show. The tension is ratcheted up by a phone call that questions their participation in a dubious business practice that might have caused the economic collapse of Bolivia.
Both men do a good job of wearing and displaying their corporate masks. Stan and Michael drop their aloof professionalism as they realize they might be the last men in the office. They become manic and worried, jumping at sounds and imagined noises.

There are some organically funny moments, but the show really doesnt know where it wants to go. These two men, separated by rank, are joined by insecurities. It is a play of momentary bonding and the embarrassment that follows, but is ultimately unfulfilling as a story because it doesnt really answer any of the questions it poses.In fact, it only obliquely raises any questions of daily strife.

Technically the play is disarmingly intimate. The main office set runs through the middle of the space, giving the actors a claustrophobic environment to inhabit, as if they are alone but still watched. The two ends that define the space are towers of file cabinets, desks and printers – the anonymous but ubiquitous flotsam of any professional office. The sets by Alexis Distler work very well with the lighting by Seth Reiser. Josie Whittlesey directed the show sharply and brings the angst up to a fine boil.

The play falters in the end though because it peters out, hampered by an anticlimactic ending that, while authentic to an office setting, comes as a bit of a letdown in the theater.

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