Tens and Twenties
nytheatre.com review by Eric Winick
August 15, 2004
The office is a popular place these days. Not that everyone’s clamoring to get there, or spend unnecessary time pushing pencils, faxing, or taking meetings. Yet the popularity of BBC-TV’s The Office and cult success of films like Office Space attest to a piqued interest, a morbid curiosity, about the everyday goings-on in cubicles and around water coolers worldwide. Is it that we’ve become so accustomed to the fantastic, to the lives of people outside these settings, that we now crave a glimpse of ourselves—the average, workaday nine-to-fiver?
In his two-hander Tens and Twenties, playwright Gregory Hardigan portrays this Everyplace as a Hell, or at least a Purgatory, that traps its occupants for ten to twenty year stints, after which time they are released to the world, never to set eyes on a Xerox machine again. The damage inflicted by these stretches is considerable—over time, employees lose touch with family, friends, and, basically, anything happening ten feet beyond their desk. To ease the pain, execs hire, or are assigned, actors, whose job it is to provide the illusion that the employee goes home after a long day at work—by reading passages describing the commute and inevitable reunion with one’s family.
It’s an intriguing premise, and Hardigan exploits it for most of its potential. Genre-wise, the piece falls squarely in the realm of Twilight Zone-ish science fiction, dotted with lovely, lyrical descriptions that give the play its heart: a crisp, fall day in an idyllic American town; the sights and smells of a local bakery; and the characters’ inability to receive the touch of another after long periods of deprivation. Initially icy, the interaction between our protagonist and his actress/secretary only thaws as both begin to appreciate, then empathize with each other’s predicament. Gradually, a deeper understanding emerges, and an unexpected melancholy settles over the proceedings.
Kurt Ehrmann and Cora Vander Broek shine in the roles of the beleaguered “ten” and his enabler, who is known only as “Constance.” Ehrmann, barefoot and rumpled, portrays his character’s private hell with a fierce intensity. The fresh-faced Vander Broek manages Constance’s subterfuge with a sly grace. Both rise to Hardigan’s expertly concocted occasion, and the result is bewitching, frightening, and disquietingly familiar.