A Company Man
When David Loper has trouble retrieving a crucial computer file for a valued client, he does what any office drone would -- he decides to pull a hard copy of the file from the company's central file room and fax it off as soon as possible. Shortly after he learns that the keys to said room are missing and that the officious clerk in charge of the file vault has just been ordered to institute a new procedure for checking out documents, it becomes clear that David, as well as the rest of the characters in The Ergeren Account, have become prisoners of efficiency.
Written by Aurora native Jake Jay Clark, the one-and-three-quarter-hour drama is receiving its premiere at Germinal Stage Denver, which produced Clark's Make a French Scene four years ago. While a few scenes have trouble making it all the way over the humor hill, director Ed Baierlein and the actors manage to sustain our interest in the wacky, sometimes absurd world of office politics.
As the play begins, an electronically distorted version of the "William Tell Overture" plays in the background -- a sure sign that technology has infected even the most hidebound of traditions. But society's stampede toward modernization hasn't exactly resulted in improved working conditions for David and his colleagues. Revamped operating policies at David's company dictate that e-mail is the only approved method of communication, but David doesn't know how to send an internal e-mail -- which means he can't request the file he needs. Which also means that he has to disable the company fax machine in order to convince the all-important client, Mitch Ergeren, that getting his documents via fax isn't an option. When Ergeren offers to pick up the papers in person, David is forced to ascend the corporate power ladder in order to solve his dilemma. Naturally, the muckety-mucks he works for simply suggest more sabotage and subterfuge.
The play is performed on a setting that consists of several platforms (painted roughly the same hue of blue as the theater's seats), tidy desks, faux computer screens and an intriguing backdrop -- an environment, nicely designed by Baierlein, that evokes office life's quirks, oddities and hilarities. While the actors are saddled with dialogue that's more labored than playful -- scenes that verge on farce or absurdity stop disappointingly short of both -- they lend a measure of impishness to the dry goings-on.
Eric Field ingratiates as the quietly exasperated David, plodding his way from this corporate island to the next in search of an oasis of sanity -- a worthy quest that too often proves futile. As his slightly superior co-worker, Cindra Hale, actress Sallie Diamond is at once middle management's paragon and folly. Carol Ann Lopez tickles a few funny bones with her portrait of Marilith Cosling, an overly earnest and easily impressed worker who gauges the importance of an off-site training event by the kind of food served during breaks: "We had croissants," she marvels. Sporting a perpetual grimace of concern, Stephen R. Kramer proves appropriately unproductive as local office manager Jim Vanvadsig. Marc K. Moran slithers through the role of Peter Schoft, an overzealous foot soldier bent on getting to the bottom of everyone else's business. And stalwart character actor John Seifert is appealing in his cameo appearance as the influential but seldom-seen Mitch Ergeren.
The Ergeren Account would benefit from a clearer sense of style and purpose. Sending up the Visigoths of corporate culture should occur more quickly and sharply. Since most people are well acquainted with the foibles of the workaday world, the action should eventually transport us galaxies, not blocks, away from the familiar. And the series of extended, overly telegraphed psychosexual encounters that mark Act Two needs some serious streamlining.
But those are minor worries that playwright Clark will likely iron out as the piece continues through its developmental stages. With further work, The Ergeren Account might yet evolve into a stylized look at that vast bivouac area known as the Corporate Twilight Zone.
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