In every office, there's so much more than work going on. Playwright Adam Bock toys with this notion in "The Thugs," now getting a competent production from the Apollinaire Theatre Company at the Chelsea Theatre Works.
Bock does a great job capturing the minutiae of meaningless work, from a carefully organized collection of colored highlighters to strict adherence to the time clock. What he adds, for this silly spoof of a thriller, is a level of paranoia that drives the story. The hourlong "Thugs" follows a group of seven temps who are spending their working days coding documents for a lawsuit described by one worker as "dumb lawyers saying dumb things to other dumb lawyers about dumb things stupid people did." But rumors are running rampant that a man on the fourth floor and a woman on the 16th floor have died, and someone on the first floor is missing. Is everyone in danger? Are the temp workers on the ninth floor the next target?
Forget about trying to unravel the mystery, and don't bother rolling your eyes when the lights go out. The beauty of Bock's plays is in his characters. In his earlier romance, "Swimming in the Shallows," he explored the ho-hum idea of different kinds of relationships, but added a wonderful twist when a shark becomes the object of a woman's affection. The same jumble of cliche and surprise appears here in the play's delightfully familiar collection of office workers. There's the woman who mutters to herself but might be a spy for the unseen boss, Mr. Halpert (a clever reference to TV's "The Office"); another whose personal problems spill into the office every day; and the one who says she "likes being at work, I just don't like working." The one male temp is the group's ringleader and big brother, stepping in to protect one worker from an abusive boyfriend.
Bock's dialogue is a collection of unfinished thoughts and interrupted sentences, a la Harold Pinter and David Mamet, and director Danielle Fauteux Jacques encourages her actors to stay rooted in their characters while they navigate the tricky tempos of the conversations. Since Bock isn't as adept at this style as his role models, this company's skill at maintaining the staccato delivery adds to the play's effectiveness.
Although the cast works as a unit, two standouts are Lorna Nogueira as the muttering Mercedes and Veronica Barron as Daphne, the worker who may be in the most danger. Barron in particular finds a bit of poignancy in Daphne that creates a surprising focus just as the play seems to come apart at the seams.
Kathryn Kawecki's set of filing boxes piled up to become walls dividing the work area creates just the right atmosphere for the endless mountains of paperwork these temps need to plow through. And while Stephen Swift's sound design, which includes mysterious rumblings as well as the eerie ding of the elevator arriving, could be integrated a little more effectively into the action, it gets the job done.