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Theater | Stage Review

Inhibitions Unleashed at 'Office Party'

This zany, rollicking brainstorm of a comedy probes small-town secrets and miseries.

April 29, 1999|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As the inebriated, genetically challenged denizens of Neuterberg, Iowa, meander across the Company of Angels' stage in "Bob's Office Party," you might wonder if co-creators Rob Elk and Joe Keyes have any sense of decency at all.

Apparently none, thank goodness. Irreverent, crude and devastatingly funny, Elk, Keyes and their razor-sharp ensemble unleash some of the most hilarious rural eccentrics since "Greater Tuna."

As insurance ace Bob Finhead (Elk) prepares to host another annual holiday drinking party (amid director-designer Ken Larson's tacky cornucopia of office furnishings), all is not well in Neuterberg. Bob is tired of handing out promotional "One for the Road" key chains with airline-size booze bottles. He wants more out of life and contemplates a move to the wider world of Des Moines.

The only thing to do with an urge like that, advises local Sheriff Joe Walker (Keyes), is to take it out and shoot it. A local AA member creatively trying to curtail his beer drinking by switching to whiskey, Joe is totally at peace with his small-town life. When he's not rousting strangers from the public park, he's out cheating on his 750-pound wife every chance he gets.

But Bob's dreams of a better life have just become possible with the return of onetime class sissy turned land baron Elwin Bewee (Pat O'Brien). Offering to buy out Bob's business for a tidy sum, Bewee harbors twisted dreams of vengeance on the community that tormented him as a child.

The plot is but a slender pretext to thread deft satirical portraits developed through cast improvisations. The mix of scripting and free associative comic energy is effective and contagious as the performers find inventive ways to leverage their characters' quirks into sight gags.

Taking cleanliness way past godliness, Bob's lover, the mayor's wife (Andrea Beutner), carries disinfectant spray and disposable gloves to her extramarital trysts, and nibbles fearfully from the edges of the pretzel bowl after others have sunk their hands in it.

Not that one could really blame her with this crowd. Sporting a tattered AC/DC T-shirt, Marty (Mark Fite), a clueless, accident-prone pothead, begs Bob to help him find insurance after his latest accident. Spinster farm-owning sisters (Melissa Denton and Maile Flanagan) chatter in unison about their upcoming singles cruise to the Holy Land and engage in a groping threesome slow-dance with Sheriff Joe. The mayor (Bill Bliesath) tries without much success to keep his sexual orientation in the closet.

And in a pair of wickedly hysterical roles, Ann Randolph steals her scenes--first, as the repressed wife of a philandering minister, strumming out her agony in an increasingly scary song she's rehearsing for a church function. Randolph later resurfaces as the town floozy, replete with clutched bottle, rotting teeth and shredded clothes.

In short, Elk and Keyes have crafted something to offend everyone--and they succeed admirably.

BE THERE

"Bob's Office Party," Company of Angels, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends May 9. $10. (323) 913-9193. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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