Relentless fluorescent lights reveal six hapless employees at their workstations. It’s opening night for playwright Eliza Bent’s world premiere presentation of “Asleep at the Wheel.” The one-act comedy takes a satirical stab at the world of office politics. The daily nine-to-five drudgery has been parodied endlessly for decades. Nevertheless, director Knud Adams confronts it with great success.
The actors/employees inhabit cubicles which are wonderfully realistic. On each desk there are functional computers, framed photos, assorted candies and random office supplies (Emma Mendelson, set design). One worker, “Frandel,” never submits his reports. He can’t. He’s a stuffed, life-sized puppet!
Other characters are identified by real names or allegorical ones. There’s clueless, overpaid “Doofus” (Adolfo “Fito” Alvarado) and bouncing, exuberant “Enthusiastic Girl” (Sofiya Cheyenne).
Sweet but timid “Martyr” (Tanyamaria McFarlane) tries futilely to meet deadlines. Intern/singer (Katherine George) sings loudly offstage. Julie Orkis is “Female Executive.” Is that metaphorical venom spewing from her managerial platitudes or is she really that sweet and sensitive? The “Male Executive” (Mohit Gautam) is just plain “cutthroat.”
Only four characters have real names. Their problems are more poignant and provocative. Seated downstage is TV and movie veteran Gary Cowling who plays cruelly insensitive “Olynne.” His character has stayed with the company for 30 years despite endless unannounced vacations.
Alex (Connor James) is underpaid and overqualified. Playwright Eliza Bent is the play’s facetious heart and soul as she dons a fake moustache and a heavy accent to become a high level, very jaded, very sarcastic office denizen named “Rivers.”
The story, though, focuses on lovely Marissa (Chanou Wiltshire). She is the quintessential frustrated employee who pays attention to corporate emails. They are shown to everyone with oversized letters against the rear wall.
Overworked Marissa excels at her job despite her lower pay and no hope of promotion. In the closing scene, she changes her desk and personal belongings as she sighs helplessly. She has no place to go, except to navigate and parry the rivers of double speak and self-absorbed colleagues that plague her office career.
Kudos to the entire creative staff including Jihyun Kim, Joe Burkard, Mark Bruckner, Emma Ruopp and Sophia Leewah. For information on this and upcoming productions, surf to www.depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/theater/ or check the box office at 718-951-4500. As always, save me a seat on the aisle.