Nightmare boss torments in 'Contractions' - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Nightmare boss torments in ‘Contractions’

A disturbingly austere all-white office sets the tone for “Contractions,” the season opener for Studio 2ndStage in Washington, D.C. “Contractions” is a restrained workplace comedy that is funny until it is tragic.

Cold and unforgiving, the play’s singular setting is devoid of personal effects. A long rectangular table — more apropos of dining room furniture — represents the physical and emotional distance between employees of an unnamed company. The location is never specified, but offices in Trenton, N.J., and Kiev, Ukraine, provide depressing plot twists. The eerie, antiseptic set and lighting is courtesy of excellent work by Luciana Stecconi (set design) and Colin K. Bills (lighting design).

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Holly Twyford is ruthless in the dark comedy “Contractions.” (Scott Suchman)

Emma (a sympathetic Alyssa Wilmoth-Keegan) has recently started a sales job for the mystery firm, which is involved with unspecified international sales and keenly interested in its employees’ personal lives. Emma’s anonymous manager (a forceful Holly Twyford) is fixated on more than Emma’s sales numbers.

Twyford plays the kind of nightmare boss organized labor was invented to resist. Her ruthless character is an exacting perfectionist who demands “yes” instead of “yeah” in response to pointed questions, including inquiries about Emma’s sex life. While the manager learns more about Emma, she is evasive about her own name.

Meetings between the two are punctuated with fake smiles and intentional pauses. Yes/no questions dominate playwright Mike Bartlett’s well-written dialogue, and the manager’s interrogation leaves no room for error. The dialogue is congenial at first but gradually takes on a more sinister form.

“Contractions” is a workplace dystopia — what corporate life looks like with Big Brother and without worker protections. If nothing else, the play makes a strong case for work-life balance. Forget middle manager training. Everyone gunning for a corner office should be required to see this play.

“Contractions” is playing at Studio 2ndStage at Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., through Jan. 27, 2013. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday performances begin at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $30. Discounts are available for students, senior citizens and members of the military. For more information, call 202-332-3300.





About the author

Megan Kuhn

Megan Kuhn is a financial literacy advocate by day and a theater fan by night. One of her favorite possessions is the red jacket from “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” that she purchased at a costume sale at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Contact the author.

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