Mr. Toland's characters are instantly recognizable as the people with whom we pass our lives from nine to five. Take, for example, Carla, the awkward, shy woman of indeterminate age who steadfastly does all of her work and follows all the rules, yet never can figure out why everybody else seems to be having a better time. Or consider Pamela, the perky, upwardly mobile manager who troops around the cubicles with a painted-on smile and a clarion voice: a manager who has everything except irony. As portrayed by Andrea Alton and Christine Carroll, Carla and Pamela feel like old friends; in fact, I wondered if these two actresses had been spying on a couple of my co-workers.
Carla and Pamela say the same meaningless things that we all say in offices, and here's where Mr. Toland proves himself such an apt dramatist, for he has captured the inanity of this small talk with remarkable fidelity. Getting the details of real life down so perfectly is no mean feat: Mr. Toland's eye and ear for detail are extraordinary.
I haven't told you the story yet; let me do so now. Our hero is Andrew Steeves, a gay man nearing his 30th birthday, a struggling actor who has worked in this office for almost four years, someone whose chronic dissatisfaction with virtually everything in his life has brought him near the breaking point. Within two months, things go from bad to worse: the endless rounds of auditions are more and more fruitless, his boyfriend Brian has decided to dump him, and he's getting decidedly mixed signals--which he consistently misreads--from his gay co-worker Paul.
Eventually Andrew implodes, as he must; as the title of the play suggests, Andrew solves his problems by re-booting himself. The journey toward this fresh start propels this play, and though it's a sometimes rocky one with more fits and starts than might be absolutely necessary from a dramaturgical standpoint, it has the ring of truth. Mr. Toland's characters tend not to behave the way we want them to, and so the blithe moments when we imagine we're in a punchy contemporary satire or a gay romantic idyll eventually give way to a sort of measured, bittersweet reality. It brings us up a bit short, and it makes Andrew and his colleagues less heroic than we might like them to be. But in its way it's as familiar and real as Pamela and Carla's idle and empty chatter.
George Henderson stars as Andrew, and he has some terrific moments, notably a big second-act speech in which he suffers something like a nervous breakdown in the middle of an audition for a student film. Mr. Henderson tends toward archness, though, and this makes Andrew less sympathetic than he ought to be, especially in comparison with Peter Mugavero's enormously appealing Paul. Jiffy Iuen plays Dana, a co-worker who has been promoted into management; she's quite sympathetic in the play's most difficult role. Carolyn Messina has two showy turns, first as a bizarre woman named Bonnie who is Andrew's partner at an audition, and later as a nice, middle-aged lady named Eileen who comes to work in Andrew's office. The aforementioned Andrea Alton and Christine Carroll round out the cast; Ms. Carroll, good as she is as Pamela, nearly steals the show in a brief cameo as the Reader from Hell at another of Andrew's auditions: Eugene O'Neill has never sounded quite like this.
Ctrl + Alt + Delete is a fine first play: it's not altogether satisfying, but it's earnest, honest, funny, and entertaining. Mr. Toland is writing from the heart, and it shows. He should be encouraged to write again.
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