moniquecarboni.jpgAdam Bock’s The Thugs is a trenchant little study of office eccentricity currently filling in at Soho Rep. I say “little” not just because the play clocks in and out in under an hour, but also because there really isn’t much in the way of dramatic payoff. Temps come and go, bodies pile up on other floors, somebody gets shoved down the stairs, but ultimately the office manager is always there to drive her staff back to the status quo of their menial tasks. And then it's time to go home.

Their tedious labor on a “dumb and corrupt” case for a big, bad law firm is what drives Bock’s temps to seek diversion in an entirely different case: the two deaths that occurred in the building over the course of three weeks. Nobody knows whether the deaths were criminal or accidental, so it falls to those meddling temps to sort facts from rumors.

But it’s not just this dark underbelly of unexplained deaths that makes The Thugs more than just a staged homage to Office Space (though it is at times much funnier). What’s really delightful is watching the quirky cast revel in the warped little nuances of office behavior: the tension that grips the room in tandem with the boss’s breathing, the idiomatic way that sentences die unfinished, the shared joy of break-time trips to the deli.

The smart, lively performances are all, without exception, richly evocative of the low-end of office totem pole and the mise en scène is pitch-perfect. Flat sunlight streams through windows streaked with rain; the desks, chairs and carpet are maddeningly bland; a broken cardboard box of fluorescent lights leans in the corner like an insult to aesthetic injury.

Ultimately, the play’s lack of a tidy denouement is part of what makes it so intriguing. In the end, the mysterious air of menace remains unperturbed and the audience is left sift through the clues and imagine their own outcome. The point of The Thugs is not so much to figure out whodunnit (though our suspicion leans heavily toward the character named after a Scooby-Doo sleuth) but to recognize the barely-concealed glee with which the bored-to-death temps greet the possibility of murder. And if the deaths in the building weren’t determined to be murders, it’s only because the cops didn’t put enough temps on the case.

The Thugs has been extended through November 12th. Tickets are $35 and almost sold out.

(Photo by Monique Carboni)