Below the Belt
This show is a somewhat gutsy move by local community actors Stephen Vargo, Miles Miniaci and Shane Galloway and director Gabriel Montoya. After all, it was only a few years ago that this same script was successfully staged over at the B Street Theatre, in a production that featured a high-powered cast: Tim Busfield, Kurt Johnson and veteran Bay Area actor Ken Ruta. Not all community actors would invite the inevitable comparisons.
But as it turns out, the local crew does just fine with this dark, twitchy comedy—in no small part because it goes out and does it its own way. Galloway—tall and very slender—is the physical opposite of the chunky Busfield, and Galloway uses his height (and a downward squint, half dismissive and half suspicious) to bring his own interpretation to the cagey, secretive character of Hanrahan. Miniaci gradually works his way to a full boil of indignation as the good-hearted Dobbit, who wants to do the right thing but inevitably finds himself compromised. Vargo is delicious as the manipulative but incompetent boss Merkin, with his files, forms and company procedures.
The situation is deliberately murky and slightly futuristic. The three men are working in some sort of industrial facility in a Third World country, working long hours checking a product (the details of which are never disclosed). They’re all little fish, comically cloistered and worrying about how to navigate their way in the gloomy, faintly menacing corporate world of the nameless conglomerate that employs them—a scenario that may remind sci-fi fans of novelist Philip K. Dick. Set designer Ron Dumonchelle makes a virtue of necessity by cramming the tiny stage with gear, playing up the claustrophobia inherent in Richard Dresser’s witty script.
Montoya, as director, keeps up a breathless pace. Keeping the audience slightly off balance in this way is a somewhat risky maneuver, but it’s a smart decision in the end, since uncertainty is very much what this play is about.