nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
May 9, 2009
Has office life ever been as fun as Ethan Coen's blink-and-you'll-miss-it collection of short plays, Offices? The enjoyable, though not particularly satisfying, 80-minute-evening is top-tier Coen, with short, punchy dialogue and dark undercurrents. Director Neil Pepe, who also staged Coen's last theatrical outing, Almost an Evening, at the Atlantic's Linda Gross Theater, has assembled virtually the same top-tier cast, including F. Murray Abraham, who delivers one of the all-time funniest performances I've recently seen.
Pepe helps bring out the best in alternately funny and lackluster material. The three plays are solid, though the curtain-lines on each are head-scratchers. Opening the show is Peer Review, about what happens to middling office workers in the wake of the dreaded peer review. Eliot, our hero, played with neurosis that doesn't go over the top by Joey Slotnick, spends the play trying to find a colleague who cares—but they're too busy to listen. What are they doing? Why ruin the sight gag?
In the second, Homeland Security, the briefcase of bumbling government worker Munro (John Bedford Lloyd, who has another memorable role in the third play) goes missing. The governmental figures are reminiscent of those played by David Rasche and J.K. Simmons in the Coen Bros.' Burn After Reading.
The last one, Struggle Session, showcases a fired middle manager who gets rehired for a better position. He, in turn, hires the Bum off the street (Abraham), who gave him what seemed to be sound advice. What is the Bum good for? Nothing, really, but he tells a damn good story about inventing the world's greatest hands-free sexual position. Abraham sells it to the greatest possible extent and his performance is show-stopping.
The remaining cast members, Daniel Abeles, Brennan Brown, Aya Cash, Daniel London, Mary McCann, Greg Stuhr, C.J. Wilson. and Daniel Yelsky are all stellar in their various roles. The production is flawless in its bland, sterile design by Riccardo Hernandez (sets), Laura Bauer (costumes), and David Weiner (lights).
If you're a Coen fan, you should do your hardest to snag a ticket as chances are, you won't be disappointed. But if you're hoping for almost-an-evening of substance, this isn't the one for you.