Stage

George Adams plays Tyrone, the tie-wearing New Yorker. The problems with his performance equal the problems with the show, because it's Tyrone who has the back-story, the load of memories he wants to forget. As long as he's relaxed, Adams is a convincing drunk. But when the script needs him to be desperate, his performance strains. The second act of Moon asks endurance both from Adams and from the audience as it descends into O'Neill's tangled, dramaless region of passionate babble. The playwright needs to be edited when he gets carried away like this, especially if the actors can't hold up the script. But nothing in the long night of Act 2 ruins the show. The old farmer turns up again at the end, drunk and plot-foiled, working not just as a reminder of the family's conniving but also as comic relief; and the Masquers, in their Point Richmond playhouse, show enough talent to hold their own in the city.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Desk Jobs
Skyscraper. By Elijah Aron. Directed by Aron. Starring Sarah Bennett, Jennifer Fitch, Jean Mazzei, Rob Waller, Anthony Lacques, and Steve Uchida. At the Red Rocket Theater, 2985 21st St., through May 3. Call 647-2065.

In Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt used the phrase "banality of evil" to describe the Gestapo chief's workaday attitude toward administrating genocide. Though few of us have been called upon to work that bad a job, anyone who has stepped inside a modern corporate office lately has probably experienced at least a taste of the ethical dissociation that Arendt observed. Yet aside from Mamet and his work-wise iambic pentameter, relatively few American playwrights have approached the issue without sentimentality or finger-wagging.

Elijah Aron doesn't fall victim to these pitfalls. In his stark, clean production, the 26-year-old playwright and director chisels a vivid if modest portrait of corporate culture, with its denizens balancing large humiliations with small dignities. Set in the military-green phone bank of a San Francisco high-rise in 1998, the play focuses on the employees of Holiday Credit, a collection agency that duns hospital patients who haven't paid their bills. While agents Peppermint, June, and Christian play the phones like seasoned con artists, Mr. Peterson, their supervisor, watches from his elevated office, monitoring their calls and exhorting them to meet their "daily goals."

Aron has an almost anthropological eye for bureaucratic euphemism and an offbeat wit that is rarely merely clever. "We're not a collection agency," pipes Peppermint (an exquisitely caustic Sarah Bennett), "but a credit resettlement firm." After June, played by a squeaky-cute Jennifer Fitch, brags about her previous night of "not sleeping all night with Robert," she asks how Peppermint spent her evening. "I was sleeping all night with Robert," Peppermint replies. "She's just teasing me," June explains to Christian. "I hate you," says Peppermint, without an ounce of subtext.

It turns out that Robert is not only June's husband but the same doltish Mr. Peterson who lords over them. Here the line between humane underlings and demonic bosses breaks down. Elizabeth, a single, middle-aged woman who has given her life to the company, completes the picture of the workplace as dysfunctional family. Channeling her own emotional needs by becoming the office therapist, she croons platitudes like "Peppermint's really lonely right now" or "June is just trying to get our attention."

The clunky mystery of who's been stealing from the company coffers demonstrates that Aron has yet to master the art of dramatic plotting. In particular, the final two scenes deteriorate into step-by-step exposition; with nothing better to do, the actors tumble below their otherwise high standards and resort to childlike recitation. And yet Aron's keen eye for quirky characters left me hoping the final blackout was really just an intermission. In the small moments of causal hypocrisy and feckless cruelty, Skyscraper ignites an all-too-familiar territory of an evil so banal and pervasive we hardly know it's there.

-- Carol Lloyd

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