You know that friend of yours whose entire life is one big ball of negativity. We all have them (or maybe you are them). That person who constantly goes on about his tale of woe yet can never seem to learn anything from past mistakes. But you let him go on as you like him for some reason. That's what the new play "99 Layoffs" by Vincent Delaney at ACT felt like to me, a couple of likable yet pathetic characters who never grow and ultimately go nowhere.
Our story centers on, Orson and Louella (K. Brian Neel and Aimee Bruneau) as they meander from interview to job to unemployment and back again in this uncertain economy. Neither of them are particularly suited for the working world as they see themselves as artists (and also have the social skills of a frightened Chihuahua) but they manage to find (and lose) job after job. But in the midst of their employment search they end up finding each other and if they can get past each other's resumes then they might just find love.
Unfortunately that's all the play has to offer. There are a few good laughs but it just keeps droning on with its overly pathetic nature and while I liked the characters I found it hard to empathize with them. I actually found more empathy for the surrounding characters (also played by Neel and Bruneau) who were there to show the hideous people Orson and Louella were forced to work with. But at least they knew who they were and stuck with it rather than blaming the world for their own shortcomings.
Neel and Bruneau have their moments to shine in the show and are definitely working hard up there. But, as I said, I tended to like their antagonistic characters over our heroes. Bruneau's donut peddler was hilarious as she raised the job of sign twirling to an art. And Neel's petulant four year old was a glorious thing to behold. But when they were in their main personas of Orson and Louella they were so one note pathetic that I just wanted to shake them.
Director David Gassner has done a fine job finding the humor in the moments and keeps it clipping along I just wish he and Delaney could have found more of an arc for their lead characters as they just seemed to be punching bags. But maybe that was the point. Maybe the whole thing was designed to poke fun at these ridiculous characters. But personally, I don't find the misfortune of others to be all that fun to watch. I guess that's why I don't watch reality TV.
"99 Layoffs" from Radial Theater Project performs at ACT through August 25th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org or www.99layoffs.com.
Photo credit: Armen Stein