The Play Without Qualities

99 Layoffs Is Satire That Sours into Mockery

The Play Without Qualities

Armen Stein

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.

No shit.

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. recommended


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Tracy 1
Oh man, ouch. We had tickets for August 16th, but one of the actors injured herself seriously DURING an earlier performance, and so a few shows had to be postponed, and with so much going on this August (Pinter, Intiman, and then non-theatre parts of life), we weren't able to make it. Now I don't feel so badly about that.
Posted by Tracy on August 22, 2012 at 10:06 AM · Report this
thelyamhound 2
On the one hand, I haven't seen the play; on the other, there are friends and colleagues involved. So I'll refrain from contesting your opinion of the production, but I'm interested addressing the (quaint, to my ear) notion that it's inherently a problem for a play--for any work of art, really--not to have an (the?) answer for the problem it addresses. It might be interesting to see how a playwright would organize capital and labor (I can't imagine how, but it would have to be less boring--if also likely less practical--than how an economist would organize same), but I tend to look to art for interesting questions and (sometimes less than reliable, that is to say, radically subjective) data than for concrete answers and social strategies. I'm not sure I trust the materialists to answer our material questions . . . and I'm even less sure I'm interested in artists being materialists.
Posted by thelyamhound on August 22, 2012 at 2:27 PM · Report this

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