Spooky Universe, 1810 16th St. NW
Sunday, July 17, 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m.
They say: “GS-14 is a comedy about a fed-up government manager who decides to ignore all rules so as to get the job done. He tries to fire the lazy. He tells people unwelcome truths. He’s soon in fights with almost everyone!”
Greg’s Take: I was fortunate enough to see GS-14 with that show’s precise target audience: my parents. Both dedicated civil servants with about a half-century of bureaucratic experience between them, they were able to explain to me after the show all the in-jokes and actual real-world ramifications of this charming, imperfect, and overall rather entertaining little show. I say little not a temporal sense—-it’s actually a good half-hour longer than most of the offerings at the festival this year—-but in the sense that it’s major aim is simply to provide an entertaining 90 minutes wherein entertaining people do entertaining things. It would be heartless of anyone to begrudge that.
GS-14 tells the story of Hank, a federal employee who is on an Office Space-style path of free will and self-destruction. The show’s MacGuffin (my dad’s word) is a new, potentially life-saving software that Hank’s department is developing called BRACE. We are never actually sat down and told why BRACE is important, or what it specifically does, or why the world needs it right now or people will die, but the script makes it clear that BRACE is good, and therefore Hank, the valiant protector of said software, must be good too. His actions in the play are ultimately forgivable for this reason, though they are occasionally troubling to those around him and those of us watching.
And boy oh boy, are there some actions. These include telling a young female co-worker how to run her personal life and repeated attempts to get a male employee to stop wearing dresses to work. Some of you more self-consciously progressive Fringers out there might want to stay away on this count. Your delicate liberal sensibilities might be in danger bruising.
The cast as a whole is a rather mixed bag. Ben Fisler as Hank turns in an acceptable performance as a frustrated Fed. Even though his character is lacking a few more subtle touches, he does annoyance very, very well, and looks quite at home in a Willy Loman business suit. The cross-dressing Theo is played with playful seriousness by Kenny Littlejohn, who also happens to be extremely tall, making him the show’s one indulgent sight gag. However, GS-14 never really enjoys that spark of genuine chemistry, as many of the show’s other actors turn in performances ranging from mediocre to downright wooden.
But so what? So the acting isn’t perfect all the time? So the protagonist isn’t the most likeable guy on the planet? So the writing is rather static and the direction makes poor use of one of Fringe’s roomier venues? Despite all this, GS-14 still has a certain run-down charm, as well as some mean staying power. The play premiered at the 2009 festival and has been back every year since, due in no small part to playwright Jason Ford’s intimate knowledge of this particular audience. He was a federal employee himself for 22 years, and there were times when his jokes whizzed over my head and I had to look over to my folks for explanation, only to catch them exchanging a knowing glance that clearly read Yup. Been there.
See it if: You’re in the mood for a nice light trip through the exquisite landscape of bureaucratic frustration.
Skip it if: You thought Office Space was a drama.