In Central Works’ “Reduction in Force,” bespectacled Anita Green (Jan Zvaifler) is faced with a dilemma.
The reluctant heroine of Patricia Milton’s very funny, three-character spoof of our ongoing economic crisis, Anita is a longtime executive secretary at Icarus Wealth Management Group.
She may be on the verge of being downsized by her boss: stiletto-heeled Gabby Deeds (Kendra Lee Oberhauser), a parody of an avaricious, ruthless and morally bankrupt financial manager.
Either Anita or Gabby’s new (as in, 10 minutes ago) “mentee,” Mitch (John Patrick Moore), will get the ax.
Both employees are desperate. Mitch is a frustrated actor with $85,000 in student loans, while Anita, a single mother of two with a mortgage that’s about to enter the subprime meltdown, can’t afford to lose this job.
In fact, Icarus is suddenly laying off so many workers that there aren’t even enough security guards left to usher them all out, and there’s a menacing murmur coming from the resentful throngs gathering at the company’s front gates (on the other side of a moat!).
Could a revolution of the unemployed be brewing?
In her office — a sleek desk and busy paper shredding machine — backstabbing Gabby is fielding multiple phone calls on her Bluetooth from her equally backstabbing associates as she tries to decide whom to fire — the trustworthy, plain-spoken secretary or the blithely ass-kissing Mitch — and how to raise the company’s profits.
Among other nefarious plans, she intends to invest in tropical storm Gabriella futures. To her delight, the storm, the next best thing to Hurricane Katrina, has been upgraded to Category 5 (that is, until it’s eventually downgraded to a “light mist”).
When Anita and Mitch conspire to take “decisive action against a corrupt system — together!” as Anita defiantly declares, all hell breaks loose, and the witty comedy, with an admittedly convoluted and hard-to-follow plot, morphs into a rollicking farce, complete with slamming doors, an incriminating briefcase full of cash and general hysteria.
Gary Graves directs the top-notch ensemble with impeccable timing, drawing hilarious, deeply committed performances from all three actors. Graves and cast know that there’s nothing as funny as people trying in all seriousness to navigate through an insane environment, and they never waver in their focus.
Milton wrote the timely script according to Central Works’ established collaborative method — that is, along with the director, cast and in this case also Michaela Goldhaber and Gregory Scharpen. When the method works, as it does here, the results are impressive.
Reduction in Force
Presented by Central Works
Where: Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 5 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 28
Tickets: $14 to $25
Contact: (510) 558-1381, www.centralworks.org