- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Those desiring a premature taste of damnation may want to try temping. Not quite employees, not quite visitors, temps exist in a queasy alternate universe where vital information is always withheld (the supervisor demands a gazillion copies 10 minutes before a big meeting but fails to give out the copier code) and they are invisible, yet blamed for every mistake.

If playwright Dan Dietz’s hilarious, disquieting comedy is any indication, he must have put in more than his share of time in the bizarro world of the temp. Directed with acerbic zest by Christopher Gallu, “TempOdyssey” is a deluxe revenge fantasy, fiendish and subversive, and is particularly savory for anyone who has been a temporary employee.

You don’t have to be a Kelly Girl to fully appreciate “TempOdyssey,” but it helps. What lowly office drudge has not dreamed of really sticking it to management or creating a Trump-size mess and then breezily sauntering out the door? With receptionist temp Genny (Marybeth Fritzky), anarchy begins with the breaking of a pencil. Her office taboo incurs the wrath of Roy (Cameron McNary), the bean-counting nephew of the chief executive officer, and attracts the attention of lifer temp Jim (Evan Casey). All the temps are known by the generic names “Jane” or “Jim,” just to keep the humiliation fresh. Jim, jaunty and devil-may-care, introduces Genny to life inside the Seattle megacorporation — the fact they are bomb-manufacturing death merchants comes into play in the second act. His idea of a workday consists mainly of avoiding work, taking frequent smoke breaks and pilfering swipe cards so he can avail himself of the executive washroom.

Initially, Genny tries to keep up with the phone to which she’s chained, but a desperate bathroom break leads to a chain of events that constitute the worst first day on the job ever. Caught in a black hole of cubicles, file cabinets and brain-dead employees, Genny pulls a Dilbert and becomes that rarest of entities — a temp no one will ever forget.

With its caffeinated, caustic dialogue and inventive structure, “TempOdyssey” zigzags between a screwball office comedy and hallucinatory fantasy sequences that reveal the inner workings of the desk jockeys. Misty Demory plays a riotous array of office types, from the sniping and clearly crackers Last Day Girl to Fran, the ubertemp worker, a Yoda-like figure who glides in to impart wisdom about such matters as the ubiquitous “Johnson file,” a mysteriously vanishing and resurfacing file containing important papers snatched from other sources.

The play begs the question of why anyone would be a temp, and Mr. Dietz posits that these workers crave isolation and anonymity because they are running away from something.

For Genny, it is her deep-fried past in Georgia.

Fleeing Atlanta for Seattle so she “wouldn’t have to walk sideways to keep from slipping into Appalachia,” Genny tries to shake the grits out of her ears by taking on a series of mindless jobs. But even the inscrutability of temping cannot fully conceal that she’s special. It would spoil the deranged surprise to reveal it here, but suffice it to say that Genny’s talent would render her a goddess in a Purdue processing plant.

However, it comes with a price. Genny thinks of herself as a walking euthanasia machine and fears getting close to anyone, even her new pal, Jim. It’s hard to figure out what Jim is running from, other than responsibility and adulthood. However, Mr. Casey gives Jim such engaging zaniness and loopy physicality, it’s hard to imagine him disappearing into the beige carpeting.

Genny, too, is a vivid presence who brings fresh colorations to the dedicated office drone. She’s an emotional train wreck who leaves chaos in her wake. Miss Fritzky’s resolute appeal has you rooting for her even when she’s poised to commit a terrorist act.

The problem with “TempOdyssey” is that the madness accretes until the playwright seems to lose control of his own play and the only solution is to blow everything to bits — a definitive ending, but a dramaturgical cop-out. Unrelenting craziness emits a unique energy, but the lack of meaning or substance keeps the play on the level of parody and merely presents a procession of amusing workplace psychos.

***

WHAT: “TempOdyssey” by Dan Dietz

WHERE: Studio Theatre 2ndstage, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C.

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays (no performance Dec. 25 and 26). Through Dec. 31

TICKETS: $19 to 29

PHONE: 202/332-7267

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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