Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Sell Your Soul: 'Human Resource(s)' Offers Sharp Satire, but Isn't a "Personnel" Masterpiece -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Human Resource(s)
a world premiere play by Sara Means
directed by Jen Sloan
Theatre Evolve
at The EDGE Off-Broadway, Chicago
Thru July 6

The tyrannical boss, the overworked assistant, the neglected newbie, the misogynistic bro and the unseen "suits" with unfair expectations.

All factor into the satire of Human Resource(s)--a world premiere one-act play by Sara Means--along with sexual harassment, gender inequality, after work alcoholism and caffeine addiction.

Under the direction of Jen Sloan, an enthusiastic young cast sells it well, with the visceral intensity adding power to Means' at times quite pointed script. 

I remain delighted for the invitation to Theatre Evolve, an Edgewater troupe with which I was unfamiliar, and nothing I saw would dissuade me from checking out what they do down the road.

And for a reasonable price, Human Resource(s) can be well-worth 90 minutes of your attention. If nothing else, it will be hard to look away.

But I'm afraid this performance review won't be entirely positive, devoid of many checkmarks for "Exceeds Expectations."

Other than providing an ugly glimpse into a sales office with some unlikable people, who become more so when pushed to the brink of ultra competitiveness, the play doesn't really offer anything all that new or novel, and not just because it put Glengarry Glen Ross in my head from the word go.

Per the title, I was expecting more of an exploration of HR personnel, or the Human Resources function within a company, which can often be maligned. (I haven't always been a fan.)

But other than a gag that has the unseen HR Dept. giving new employee, Dylan (Jonathan Allsop), a foot-high stack of paperwork, this isn't the focus of Human Resource(s).

Instead, we get sales reps Matt (Trevor Strahan) and Sally (Jackie Seijo) treating the new guy badly, and the supervising sales manager, Trudy, being embodied by Andrea Uppling as a quintessential bitch. (To her credit, Uppling does a swell job of being detestable.)

Another sales manager, Laura (Anna Rachel Troy), is unseen-but-heard and is about as loathsome as Trudy.

Lest it seem that the play only portrays working women in a terrible light, Strahan's Matt--again with credit due to the actor's characterization--is a cocksure ass.

And the highest-ranking executive referenced is a man who creates a cockamamie sales contest, with the winner to get a promotion and the loser to be fired.

With or without such overt parameters, I'm sure such competitions truly exist--with Glengarry's Shelley Levene a clear fictional point of reference--but given what unfolds, all three sales reps in Human Resource(s) would seem to make themselves indispensable to the company's bottom line.

Certainly, the banality is part of Means' point, but depending on each viewer's own experiences, the maniacal extremes to which Dylan, Matt and Sally--as well as a martyr of an assistant named Alice (Shanna Sweeney)--are pushed by the contest, their bosses and gallons of high-octane coffee will either feel gruesomely over-the-top or grimly reminiscent...with the hyperbole mocking reality by a mere matter degrees.

In many ways, I liked the intensity onstage, because it makes Human Resource(s)--being presented in the nice, new EDGE Off Broadway--eminently watchable.

And there is something at the root of what the play is theoretically aiming to convey, as it seems most people in America hate their jobs and/or bosses--often in conjunction.

But once the work's underlying point seems to be established--that employees, some nice, some not so much, can be made to suffer by tyrannical superiors and unfair demands--the only evolving depth seems to be in physical ferocity elevating the satire.

Keeping in mind this is a world premiere, I give the actors, director, writer and crew considerable props for their efforts.

But in terms of offering thematic heft and fresh insights, Human Resource(s) still could use a good bit of work.

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