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Posted at 1:56 PM ET, 07/17/2009

'GS-14': Close Enough for Government Work

By Nelson Pressley
Fringe Festival

Transplant "The Office" to a government bureau and you get "GS-14," a wonky comedy from Jason Ford that drew a full house to the sweaty upstairs Bodega venue Wednesday night. (And it was even at the wonk-friendly time of 5:30 -- right after work!)

Ford has done a stretch or two in federal government jobs, so his procedural jokes about a scheming project manager get plenty of knowing laughs. Plotting isn't his long suit, though, and director Catherine Aselford does practically nothing in terms of staging. (The same can be said, incidentally, for the Two Mormons Walk Into a Bar production of Four Dogs and a Bone, John Patrick Shanley's acidic Hollywood satire: the performers show up and act fast, and that's about it.)

The "GS-14" actors know their lines (pretty much), but the show is largely carried by Ford's writing: He gives a merrily Machiavellian manager named Hank lots of snappy lines as the character pushes the envelope of right and wrong. The main story is about how Hank tries to secure a project that might actually help save lives.

What's more interesting is the subplot that comes from the colorful gallery of characters Ford's created. The office staff includes a competent new guy named Theo who, on principle, shows up to work in women's clothing.

"I hope this job will be a nice mix of useful projects and social justice," says Theo, played with appealing dignity by the tall, strapping Ricardo Frederick Evans. Ford makes this figure intellectually compelling -- he's rebelling against the tyranny of gender roles, and Ford knows this rhetoric, too -- while getting good comic mileage from the challenge he poses to the office.

The bulk of the show, though, deals with the politically incorrect manager Hank as he manipulates his minions (namely Theo and the attractive young Megan) while fighting off grievance charges from the local union lawyer.

Though Ford keeps the pace brisk at 90 minutes, the comedy is eventually similar to its bureaucratic target: confused and bloated.

-- Nelson Pressley

By Nelson Pressley  | July 17, 2009; 1:56 PM ET
Categories:  Theater  
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