What makes corporate offices the perfect settings for serial narratives—e.g. comic strips, television comedies—is that small crises may arise but, ultimately, inertia proves to be its own reward for employees lulled by the nostalgic promise of a 'steady job.' In recent years, however, the face of American industry has undergone a revolution, and this superficially lightweight play may prove, in retrospect, to be the vanguard for official acknowledgment of a change in workplace dynamics.
Our arena is the high-powered world of Brooks and Reilly Public Relations. To be sure, Bud Brooks, whose reputation rests on his uncanny ability to make lemonade—and lettuce—from lemons, has his blind spots: one is the chronically AWOL assistant who steals credit for his subordinates' successes. The other is his own son, Billy, who stands to inherit the company despite having the IQ of a golf ball. This leaves the capable Bob, the hard-working Susan and the ambitious Stephanie to do the grunt work of promoting such anomalies as remote-control gas pumps, taser-equipped tableware ( for dieters ) , microwave cell phones and barbecued penguin wings.
Authors Michael Rosenbaum and David Brimm could have been satisfied with just venting—did I mention that they are both, themselves, survivors of the advertising wars, or that the properties mentioned in the text are not fictitious?—and much of Pitching Penguins is standard sitcom fare: annoyingly goofy characters, cutesy catch phrases in heavy rotation, reliable sight gags ( can you go wrong with a pretty girl in a penguin costume? ) and two sympathetic heroes who manage to stay above the mayhem. But where most plots in this genre would fizzle to a stop with a facile tomorrow-is-another-day shrug, or, alternatively, take a dark turn into Glengarry Glen Ross territory, this one concludes with a resolution so logical and—more important—reflective of current trends in business practices that you wonder why playwrights have not invoked it sooner.
Director Karin Shook keeps hijinks forthcoming and the pace brisk. The characterizations vary in their degree of exaggeration ( though Thom Goodwin's poker-faced delivery of the line 'I've never seen anybody with so many hidden talents' should be taped for instructional purposes ) , but each persona displays the irrevocable conviction we recognize from our own experiences amid similar eccentrics to be found in every community. Once the performers fine-tune the rhythms inherent in their material, its documentary value should become evident.
Playwright: Michael Rosenbaum and David Brimm. At: Flaxen Productions at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse, 2259 N. Lincoln. Phone: 733-871-3000; $38-$43. Runs through: March 16