Annex Theatre, 728-0933. Through May 6.

This season of layoffs and other foibles of entrepreneurship seems a particularly apt time to stage an office satire, and Annex Theatre's production of Anne Washburn's Pearl punctures the thin walls of that arena effectively. Walking into the theater, the audience is treated to the hyper-real set designs of Tom Milewski, whose uncanny if ambiguous representation of a "creative" office called 800 Morerand comes replete with alienlike ergonomic chairs, chemical "new carpet" smell, and emblems of success, such as a brass pyramid desk ornament. Overhead, Muzak filters through, and a woman's voice intermittently thanks you for waiting.

The sense of doom the set serves up is not unwarranted; early on, Washburn's script delivers a victim in Colin, played with humorous limpness by Ed Hawkins, who quits when psyched out in a meeting by his boss, Rich (John Farrage). Rich is the creepiest kind of manager, manipulating his staff in the name of "motivation," and Farrage combines his own beefy physicality with a silky demeanor as effectively as a corporate trainer at Delphi. Colin's resignation throws off the balance of the creative team, and each of its members slowly succumbs to paranoia, sending the story into a surreal, violent tumble leavened by the presence of two deadpan receptionists (depicted nicely by Alicia Barta and Laurie Jerger). Jerger is especially caustic; it's a pleasure to watch her deliver--with spot-on timing--barbs that skewer the dehumanizing corporate pop-psych drivel.

As the house of cards that is 800 Morerand collapses, time seems to stretch just like it does at the end of a staff meeting, and the story gets a little messy, interrupted by two intermissions. I might suggest some downsizing to sharpen up the end result here, but overall, Pearl (does the title suggest something beautiful might come out of the suffering?) delivers a very funny and very entertaining bottom line.