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Small Office, Big Play

It’s a riff on The Office laid out in a series of loosely sequential sketches depicting the quirky, insular world of a boss and two employees in a small office. The humour is pitch-perfect; as dry as Anza-Borrego with absurdist, Monty Python-esque touches. The laughter is of the lingering kind, even days after seeing the production in the cozy little performance space that is Santa Monica’s Promenade Playhouse. And while it’s unquestionably cheeky to advertise “Only $8 to see the best show ever in the history of the spoken word,” a little bit of swagger in the production’s step is certainly justified. This is golden, funny stuff skillfully put on by a golden, funny cast.

­ But not just funny. Like Tom Noonan’s What Happened Was…, Small Office is an unfussy theatrical experience – unfussy, perhaps, with the exception of clumsy scene transitions defined by abrupt song snippets – where comedy masks a deeper pathos, courtesy of both refined writing and versatile performances. Though Small Office has no plot to speak of, the writing’s strength is such that the character interactions create a vital plot-like continuity. The play achieves what, for example, the film Cold December unsuccessfully aimed for: evolving character moments through dialogue. There’s a fascinating, subtle dynamic at work among the three characters. Enabled to a large part by Jeremy Evans’ hapless boss-man, a fellow closer to Steve Carell’s TV character than Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss, there’s the spirit of employee solidarity in the face of a common managerial adversary despite the occasional collaborationist tendencies. Throw in an attractive single woman sharing a space with two single men, and the power imbalance between boss and employee isn’t the only dynamic in play.

Naturally, the whole bubbling mix is affected by the chemical volatility of different personality types: The immature adult overcompensating for personal shortcomings, the sassy woman with dreams and ambitions, the neurotic wound up so tightly the word “tourniquet” doesn’t begin to describe it. Evans and Mindy Raymond are bright, immensely likeable, and spot-on in the first two roles. And in the third, Wayne Temple is the play’s force of nature with a performance that has to be seen to be believed – when’s the last time someone turned violent, vein-bulging red on cue? The physical intensity Temple brings to his part is enough to inspire the belief he could make his head explode on command if he so desired, and all to the service of conveying the extent of his character’s barely-repressed inner turbulence. All together, this is a cast that gels in a clever and entertaining play that mines for some of those nuggets of humanity in the absurd banality of everyday life. Quite a big play for such a small office!

­ Small Office. Written and directed by Jeremy Evans. Starring Jeremy Evans, Mindy Raymond and Wayne Temple. Performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, March 28 and April 4. On stage at the Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third St. Promenade, Santa Monica. 310.656.8070

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