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Quirky 'Away' captures cubicle life

The title of the latest production from Rough & Tumble Theatre may sound like a rote voice-mail line, but there is little about ''I'm Away From My Desk Right Now. . ." that is routine. With varying doses of theater, film, and sketch comedy influence, Rough & Tumble weaves together nine original illustrations of life within the half-walls of an office cubicle.

Each mini-play within ''I'm Away From My Desk Right Now. . ." has its own title and distinct characters. Some are easy to recognize: the anal retentive guy with the highlighters; the female cube mate who talks too loudly and too incessantly; the supervisor who can't remember names. But there are other, quite distinct characters created by the five-person ensemble, and for those it's worth the trip to see this quirky little show tucked upstairs on the second floor of the Calderwood Pavilion.

In ''Fire Drill," Irene Daly plays tongue-tied Katie, agonizing over her desire to talk to the new hire Lewis (an earnest George Saulnier III). In ''Jerry's Muffin," Kristin Baker and Matt Chapuran discuss in circuitous detail how little they actually understand of their jobs.

Two pieces occur without any dialogue at all and instead feature physical montages of a morning commute and afternoon break. Jason Myatt is a principal player in these, conveying a sense of vulnerability and inevitability with the shrug of his shoulders. All the while, Fred Harrington provides lively underscoring and scene-change music from the keyboard.

Rough & Tumble works hard at staying loose, and director Dan Milstein serves as an enlightened engineer of the reverie. Not only are many of the vignettes improvisational in feel, but the order in which they are performed depends on the audience. Cast members present a tray full of small props to viewers, and the next scene is triggered by whichever prop is selected.

Despite the playful format, the majority of the pieces in ''I'm Away From My Desk Right Now. . ." have a melancholy aspect to them. Most of the characters, trapped within their cubicles, display a sense of longing and incompletion. But if there's anything that drags in the production, it's the sillier one-note sections such as ''Public Address," which features a rambling speech by a crooked corporate figurehead. A little trimming would go a long way toward making ''I'm Away From My Desk Right Now. . ." more lithe.

Nearly every piece of scenery in ''I'm Away From My Desk Right Now. . ." is on wheels, and that mobility makes for entertaining tidbits as the performers hustle props to the appropriate side of the stage with each audience pick.

But this convention starts to feel a bit contrived by Act 2. Along with the scenery silliness, costume designer Bonnie Duncan has the cast constantly changing from one colorful office getup to another.

Rough & Tumble is nothing if not fresh. The group has long positioned itself as a company providing an alternate way to digest theater. While wholly theatrical, the work of Rough & Tumble succeeds at being more cinematic than scenic. Think of it as a tasty supplement to your usual theater consumption.

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