The office—that overly-lit, frigid warren of tedium where many of us fritter away the best years of our lives—continues to be a source of inspiration for writers, who in recent years have mined cubicles for comedy in works like Office Space, The Office, and The Thugs. The latest worthy addition to the canon comes from Ethan Coen, one half of the famously idiosyncratic filmmaking duo. Last season Coen had a hit with his Off Broadway debut Almost an Evening, a funny exploration of existentialism, religion and homicide neatly divided into three short plays. His newest theatrical venture, Offices, uses the same short play format to skewer the competitiveness, anxiety, and alienation of corporate culture. It's the perfect antidote for anyone suffering from a case of the Mondays.
Despite the absence of his sibling writing partner, this is still undeniably Coen country; ambiguous menace is in, easy caricatures and rote plot points are out. In fact, the second and funniest play of the evening, "Homeland Security," feels almost like a Burn After Reading B-side, with its missing documents, vague government officials, and extra-marital covetousness. Because these plays' dialogue sounds so quintessentially Coen, anyone wondering which sibling dominates the screenwriting process is left to speculate that either Ethan does the bulk of it, or that they essentially share the same brain. Judging by their habit of finishing each other's sentences, we're going to go with the latter.
Like Almost an Evening, this production features the always enjoyable F. Murray Abraham, who plays a slick, unapologetic boss in the first piece and, in the concluding play, a zany bum who almost got famous for inventing a sexual position. The rest of the ensemble is equally adept at making that distinctive Coen idiom feel natural, though the opening play, about a disgruntled employee who fails to incite an office rebellion, is undermined by Joey Slotnick's too-broad interpretation of the central character. After this initial misstep, Offices becomes increasingly more hilarious as it proceeds under Neil Pepe's fluid direction, and like any winning Coen concoction, you'll probably find yourself chuckling over the sharpest dialogue for days later. Please see the almost sold-out Offices at once, so that we won't be the only ones working "climbing the ass of man" into our everyday speech.