'The Grind,' a new workplace satire by local playwright Timothy Thomas, reveals what happens when a company Everyguy gets caught in interoffice intrigues
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Aug. 26, 2005
Arts on Real, through Aug. 27
Running time: 1 hr, 25 min
If Niccolò Machiavelli were alive today, no doubt he'd be riding high on the nonfiction list with his bestselling how-to tome, The CEO. Prince shmince. Corporations are the new city-states, cubicle drones the serfs of the day, and quarterly financial reports the battlefields on which blood is spilled (when the red ink is) and true power won or lost. To see the kind of cutthroat politics and cold-blooded manipulation that made Machiavelli a household name, today one need only step into the boardroom of any midsized American corporation or its accounting office, for that matter.
That's where Silas works, or tries to, in The Grind, a new workplace satire by local playwright Timothy Thomas. Silas is that unlikeliest of employees on the contemporary business scene: the one who actually does the job he was hired to do. He's not all that interested in the lives of his co-workers or clawing his way up another bloody rung on the corporate ladder. He's content to be an accountant and spend his time on the clock resolutely focused on the company books. Alas, he has the misfortune to share an office with Daisy, who's all about office politics and gossip and idling her day away from punch-in to punch-out. She's forever pulling Silas' eyes from the bottom line and trying to get him involved in the, um, ins and outs of company life. The dutiful Silas strives to keep Daisy at bay (even as he seeks her company after hours), but he can do little to stay out of the office fray when Winnie, Penni, and Darci, a troika of scheming board members, pull him into their latest campaign for control of the company. They boost him up to chief financial officer, with the aim of having him punish their enemies and consolidate their power. He does make a rather modest stab at evening a score, but in the overheated air of this office the move sparks a series of overreactions that sends the whole company spiraling into a chaotic riot that makes the French Revolution look like a Presbyterian potluck supper.
The idea, of course, is that anyone who gets caught up in the dirty politics of the workplace, no matter how principled she or he may be, is doomed to the same fate as a slab of USDA prime shoved through a grinder. In this case, the victim isn't exactly a saint, just an average corporate grunt, an Everyguy putting in the hours and picking up the paycheck. As played by Andy Smith, Silas has a low-key, nondescript air about him that leaves him unmemorable the kind of guy you'd nudge someone at the copier about and ask, "What's his name again?" That works well enough for him when he lands in the web of the spidery trio from the board Miriam Yucht Rubin, Laurie Gallardo, and Mariana G. Thornton, who share not only the same wardrobe (black skirt, white blouse, monochrome tie) but the same smug smirk; you know he doesn't have what it takes to wriggle out of their clutches. And it does earn Silas our sympathy when his foot's in the machine and the handle starts to turn. But it also raises the question of what Daisy possibly sees in him. In the person of Heather Hargrove, she's so animated, so lively, she takes such glee in the interoffice intrigues, that you wonder how he even registers on her radar; it's like the hare taking a more than passing interest in the tortoise. (But then Daisy admits to having dated Truman, a gung-ho, golf-club-swinging doofus in Dockers, as portrayed by Geoff Pearson. So go figure.)
The play builds toward the havoc unleashed by Silas' unfortunate entry into office politics, but Thomas scarcely gives us time to enjoy the madness. The second act during which the employees go berserk (and hold orgies in the break room!), calm is restored, Silas' role in the chaos revealed, a new ruling order established, and the romantic subplot resolved races by in a scant 20 minutes. The efficiency of the script and briskness of pace established by director Julie Winston-Thomas throughout the Loaded Gun Theory production is admirable, but we lose some of the fun of seeing this realm of modern misery, of such rigid order and mind-numbing rules and appalling skulduggery, descend into disorder. This might be one time when it would be more fun to stay at the office a little longer.