Field 309 at Incubator Arts Project

Richard Foreman may have left the building, but his spirit and style loom large over the current production at the Incubator Arts Project. This amusing new dark comedy draws on familiar aesthetics and theatrical devices from the downtown theater playbook to create a work that is part Foreman, part Beckett and part The Office.

In Title:Point Production‘s Field 309 a worker named Mister Pants (Ryan William Downey) has been toiling at his mundane and meaningless job in Field 309 for so long he cannot remember when he started. When the show begins he is meeting his new workmate, Mr. Agis (Jennette Selig), who has mysteriously replaced his former co-worker. Averse to change, Mr. Pants reluctantly begins to orient and train Mr. Agis in the ways of their workplace. They are overseen by a mid-level manager named Judith (Averyn Mackey) who drops in occasionally to bring them piecework and food and oversee their progress.

Unknown to them they are being watched by a three-member Observation Team that reports their every move to the Board of Directors (portrayed on video by T. Ryder Smith and Jay Smith). Slowly but surely all of their liberties are taken away in the interest of efficiency and workplace progress. This onerous state of affairs begins when they are forbidden to utter “nonword sounds” such as “um” because it wastes time and culminates in a demand for total workplace silence except when signalled by a purple light.

Things take a turn for the worse when they are visited by Mister Duele (Jeff Randall Rose) in order to assess their progress and workplace satisfaction. He asks them a series of “no-win” questions that inevitably increase the co-workers paranoia and stress. With each of Duele’s visits Pants and Agis become increasingly unraveled and the workplace becomes more threatening and ominous. An animated video on the rear wall plays throughout the show, projecting meaningless and contradictory slogans meant to inspire (or oppress) the workers.

The ensemble does an admirable job. Ryan William Downey gives a strong performance as Mr. Pants – he serves as the center of the piece, it is the story of his unraveling, after all. Jennette Selig is engaging as the energetic but befuddled Mr. Agis. Jay Smith and T. Ryder Smith give dryly humorous performances via video of The Board of Directors who are constantly finding cost-saving measures from their remote location. The Observation Team are intermittently funny as a bumbling crew of observers, tracking and analyzing the hapless and  hopeless Pants and Agis.

Overall the production is enjoyable, but the shadow of Foreman – and  his many  disciples – hangs over Field 309, making the proceedings feel overly familiar. Theresa Buchheister’s Title:Point Productions is a young company (they were founded in 2006) and is still finding its footing and voice. And The Incubator Arts Project is an incubator, after all, so if Field 309 feels more like a work in development from a promising young writer/director than a finished piece, that’s understandable. I look forward to seeing more work from the company as they evolve and grow.

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