December 1 – 18, 2022
If you’ve dreaded going back into the office, Events confirms the return may be worse than you imagined. Much, much worse.
Set in an elite New York design firm, Bailey Williams’s Events is an offbeat satire about work culture and selfhood, and how the former squashes the latter. Doesn’t sound funny? The joy of Williams’s world premiere is that it absolutely is. To maintain a position at the play’s prestigious company, one employee, always with a suitcase in tow, commutes from Chicago, which she can do in just three hours. In defense, she says some people live in New York and still commute two. A bashful coworker, outed, nods.
Those who laugh-winced through civil servants’ doom in Sarah Einspanier’s Lunch Bunch or had secondhand embarrassment from the body-contorting acrobatics of coworker collaboration in The Mad Ones’ Miles for Mary may experience a similar pain-cum-euphoria at The Brick, where Events is now playing. The play is ruthless, the character dynamics outrageous, and the office humor as pointed as an unfurled paper clip.
Todd David Design conceptualizes high-end events, and the grind never stops: there are galas in the spring, weddings in the summer, more galas in the fall, and holiday parties in the winter. “January is never too bad,” one character chimes. Employees thrive on their overwork and are addicted to the toxicity the mad man at the top (Brian Bock) breeds. Vying for his attention and approval are ordered Monica (Dee Beasnael), sycophantic Dario (Derek Smith), nervous Brigid (Julia Greer), and insufferable Christine (Claire Siebers). In using eggs as a gala motif for clients Mark and Joanna (pronounced jo-HAHN-ah), Todd asks what an egg means. Before Monica can even finish saying birth, Todd has said no.
Francine (Haley Wong) joins the team as office manager but doesn’t drink the Kool Aid. There’s a pill employees can take to lose their fear of dying. It’s a mild sci-fi element that’s in step with the wonky, berserk world of Williams’s play, so impressively wrought that, despite its insanity, you may feel a friend has indeed worked at Todd David Design. In the era of WeWork and SoulCycle, cult and capitalism cuddle closer every day. Combating your fear of death, the pill also fights your fear of living: if you no longer worry about death, you feel no internal clock and as such can stay at work, well, forever.
Office comedies are nothing new; nonetheless, Events sparkles thanks to Williams’s assured, bonkers tone and unique contemplations of the grief of losing a self. When the high season never ends, self-reflection never starts. Francine brings her full self to the job, disrupting her coworkers’ patterns. Another character also strove for authenticity: Itchy (Zuzanna Szadkowski) punctuates scenes with monologues describing workplace harassment that escalated to poisoning. Did Itchy work at Todd David? Here, Williams befuddles: Itchy struggled with her boss, Kristina, who seems to also be…Christine? The tie is unclear and could leave audiences, well, itchy. Still, Szadkowski is so inviting in her speeches they take on the breeze of happy hour banter with a friend.
The other performances are also wonderful: Siebers is a standout as the boss you love to hate, her tone pitch-perfect. Greer’s meekness is hilarious, and no therapist could save Smith’s Dario from whatever high he got out of drinking red wine while answering work emails at home.
The direction and design are as accomplished. DOTS’s scenic design gets great efficiency out of work tables that morph to different shapes, and Dan Wang’s costumes lend each employee a specific color reflecting contemporary fashion’s monochromatic style. Sarah Blush directs a lean production whose pacing and comedic timing are impeccable.
Itchy returns at the end of the play to discuss her harassment with a board. She is not believed. Here, the Todd David employees transform into the board but lose their previous roles’ nuance; it’s a bit jarring to see such colorful characters become new ones who are flat and uniform in their affects. Of course, people in power don’t always believe harassment allegations, but this closing scene lacked the nuance to tackle the workplace issues Williams had so deftly done before.
Regardless, the play stands as a masterful comedy, and the Hearth, its producer, continues to cement itself as one of the most trusted voices in new play cultivation. In trying to sum up her work at Todd David, Monica says, “We make the indelible delible.” Williams’s play works similar magic.