It’s your first day on the job at TQB Unicorp. You’re sitting quietly, waiting for your “new employee orientation” to start. Understandably, you feel out of place and anxious, not really sure what the day holds for you. Will you like your boss? Will you get along with your fellow employees? Will you remember all the procedures and interoffice rules set forth by Chester Chestington, the decrepit and mute founder of TQB? What is their policy on wiping boogers on the lavatory walls or keeping crack in your desk or banging Mary on the 13th floor? Will you make it through the day without being attacked by Bucky, the mutant son of one of your new co-workers? How will you handle the steady stream of neurotics, psychotics, ex-cons and perverts who are dancing and screaming and fighting all around your desk? And why, pray God, did that man just offer you a poo sandwich? On any other day, you’d be racing for the exit, promising to never to return to the nonstop horrors that TQB serves up. But today, you’ll just sit back, safe in your seat at the Planet Ant Theatre, laughing at all the verbal jousting and the broad slapstick and the dead-on satire that the creators of Business as Unusual have in store for you. Welcome to TQB Unicorp, the worst place you’ll ever work, and one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see.
The setting for Business as Unusual — the drab and dreary and fluorescent-lit confines of an office building — is no stranger to the comedic treatment. What would television variety shows be without “the office sketch”? What would “Saturday Night Live” or “Kids In The Hall” be without the rich vein of “office politics” to mine? Who doesn’t remember the brilliant film Office Space? Even Herman Melville weighed in on the subject with his absurd and unforgettable short story “Bartleby the Scrivener.” So, you may think it’s all been done before; nothing left to poke fun at or freshly lampoon. Well, you’re wrong. With whacked-out, vaudevillian energy, Planet Ant takes a bravely original stab at the whole genre. For a tiny troupe of players playing the tiny burg of Hamtramck in a beyond-tiny theater, this is a big play with big laughs.
Director Dave Davies, a veteran of Planet Ant’s Monday Night Improv show; actors Brett Guennel, Tim Robinson and Quintin Hicks; and stage manager Tommy Leroy collaborate with an appreciation for the sight gag, the awkward conversation and the revelatory double-speak and sexual innuendo of “the business world.” The show starts with a warning from the slow-talking, folksy janitor who enters sweeping the floor, imparting a bit of company history to the assembled new hires (the audience). What follows is a rat-a-tat succession of vignettes that introduce us to characters who will next appear in longer, more drawn-out pieces that thoroughly explore just how fucked-up everyone is at TQB Unicorp. From the maddeningly slow-witted bumpkin (“I can’t eat candy cuz my feet will fall off”) to the insanely jealous office automaton who has a sign-up sheet for everyone who works with his wife, to the beyond-nebbish dweeb who retreats to a corner of the office to maniacally apply Chap Stick, the show’s characters come in and out of the play to reveal more insecurities, skeletons or perversions. A man who is bleeding to death treats us to a lecture on office safety. We receive another lecture from a man who can’t seem to stay on the subject at hand, constantly veering to the story of his tragically deformed offspring and how someday he may just “have to put him down.” It’s not as sick as it sounds, but it later leads to a confrontation aboard an elevator with a sight gag that’s too good to give away.
In a revue show like this one, timing is everything, and — along with their spirited mugging and their gift for capturing the voices and barely repressed madness of their characters — the cast’s pacing and physicality is reminiscent of predecessors like Sid Caesar and Lucille Ball and Abbott and Costello. I’m not embarrassed to group them with these giants; they’re that good.
Go on and punch the clock at TQB Unicorp. It’s a terrible place to work, but the “bennies” couldn’t be any better.
Business as Unusual plays through July 18 at Planet Ant Theatre (2357 Caniff, Hamtramck). Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Call 313-365-4948.Dan DeMaggio is a frequent contributor to Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org