Ethan Coen spends time among corporate drones for this slight satire.
Tue May 12 2009
Photographs: Doug Hamilton
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Maybe it’s end-of-the-season fatigue, but I have half a mind to recommend Ethan Coen’s slight bureaucracy satire, Offices, just to see F. Murray Abraham as a devil-may-care bum. His character (sensitively named Bum) is an unwise impulse hire at a nameless company that, of course, eventually fires him. But the ill-attired and trash-talking panhandler does not go quietly. “You’re just ass-climbing,” he sneers at the meek middle manager (Daniel London) handing him his pink slip. “Climbing the ass of man.” The phrase is schoolyard silly, but the way that Abraham tosses it off provokes giggle fits.
Indeed, the excellent cast is the chief strength of Neil Pepe’s slick production of three short plays on the same theme: Corporate life will make you cruel, insane or moronic—or some combination of the three. This being the work of a Coen brother, it’s not enough to have a shopworn theme: You have to point out that you know it’s clichd and you don’t take it seriously. Thus a disgruntled worker (the amusingly frazzled Joey Slotnick) calls his boss “Kafka,” a would-be insult that the employer (also played by Abraham) calmly corrects. Kafka was the writer, he explains; the villains in his work were sinister forces. “You should call me Nameless Tormentor,” he informs the drone. Such smart-alecky material is funny, but limited.
Coen is a skilled writer of deadpan comic dialogue, but his sense of dramatic structure is far too episodic and linear (maybe from years of crafting screenplays). Still, this is a big improvement over his sketch-comedy excursion, Almost an Evening. I’m actually looking forward to the next thing that comes out of his cubicle.—David Cote