The Play Without Qualities
99 Layoffs Is Satire That Sours into Mockery
The publicity photo for 99 Layoffs—a distressed-looking woman in a fast-food uniform, a bug-eyed man in a banana costume, and a cascade of pink slips stamped "YOU'RE FIRED"—isn't exactly subtle. But overt isn't always an insult, and a slapstick play about the already much- examined world of crappy jobs and unemployment could be fresh. The two-person 99 Layoffs, however, doesn't offer a single insight about endless job searches, living with your parents into your 30s, or working tedious desk jobs other than: Man, it sucks to be out of work and/or have a crappy job.
The protagonists, Louella (Aimée Bruneau) and Orson (K. Brian Neel), are two perpetually unemployed (and, due to their intended-to-be-quirky-but-actually-grating "lovable loser" personalities, virtually unemployable) people trying to navigate the soulless world of corporate-speak and lecherous bosses and whether or not to steal your creepiest coworker's yogurt pretzels. (Answer: Don't.) They have a few moments of genuine humor but many moments when you wish it were an improv show so someone else could tap in or the scene could just end.
Playwright Vincent Delaney (Perpetua, Kuwait) fails to give Orson and Louella qualities beyond labored eccentricity and major incompetence. Each plays a quirky musical instrument (flutophone and autoharp, respectively). Orson literally falls to the floor in terror whenever a prospective employer reaches out to shake his hand—it's surprising and funny the first time, but less so with each subsequent fall. Louella lets the 4-year-old sociopath she nannies bury other children alive in the sandbox while she chats on the phone with her boyfriend. By the end, after they cycle through more and more demeaning work—interviewing, working, getting fired or laid off—Orson ends up outside a cupcake shop in a huge plush cupcake suit, falling on his face and moaning.
Shoving people into goofy costumes and making them fall down isn't inherently bad—if only there were an intelligence under the surface, or a comment about something, anything. But 99 Layoffs plays frivolously with the real darkness that some people actually live. They're trying to stay alive by choosing the right weight of résumé paper. They succeed at nothing. They're slowly running out of hope.
"What if all this just stopped?" Louella says toward the end. So... communism, then? I had a fleeting hope that 99 Layoffs might miraculously have a thesis after all, or turn out to be—SURPRISE!—a serious advertisement for another way to organize capital and labor, or at least for another cultural view on work and life and success. Nope. Her comment dies on the vine. And we're left to laugh at a guy sobbing in a cupcake suit.