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What’s so funny about getting ‘axed’?

by Lenise Willis

Just by looking at the standard office setting, the desks, computers and unflattering fluorescent lighting, the set of Hatchetman may stir some dreadful dull feelings of being at work. But have no fear, this play successfully takes on the impossible and turns one of the most depressing scenarios — an already failing print business in today’s post-recession — into a farcical comedy.

The employees at Putts, a glossy golf magazine, are fearful of the impending corporate takeover and the “hatchetman” who’ll decide who stays and who goes.

With Temple’s allergies, Jane and Johnson’s awkwardness, Otis’s old age and Carter’s “sqeak-by” writing — the whole crew is rendered basically unemployable and must scramble to hold onto their jobs despite the odds. The lonely editor-in-chief, Sam, however, is more concerned with pitching a different type of “job” to her male employees.

Overall, the plot, written by playwright, David Wiltse, is extremely simple and is comprised of two main goals for the characters: to keep their job and get laid. Each character is, by rights of farce, an over-the-top typecast.

Of course every successful farce is also filled with the slapstick comedy of pratfalls and comedic timing, and the cast of Festival Stage of Winston-Salem’s production uses every prop and piece of office furniture to bring physical comedy to the stage. In fact, the director, Steve Umberger, even enlisted the help of a fight coordinator to nail down the chaotic second act, which has the actors falling out of chairs, jumping over desks and running in and out of doors.

Rebecca Koon’s performance as Sam requires an unashamed demeanor as she pounces on the male employees, wielding a riding crop and asking “Who wants to play horsey?” Koon creates a very bold, direct, cutthroat and very confident character who definitely commands the audience’s attention. She completely assumes the role of a terrifying and critical editor… and a very attractive cougar.

Lynnsey Ooten (Jane) channels her inner, awkward nerd for whom the audience can’t help but feel sorry. The workroom banter makes it no secret that her looks will prohibit her from ever getting hired elsewhere, and she’s never even noticed by Carter (Christian Casper), whom she loves from afar.

Ooten, who would fade in the background in the real world, takes the spotlight in the second act as she chases after Carter while blinded by the loss of her glasses. Ooten takes a classic, overused act — getting a foot stuck in a waste basket — and manages to keep the laughs coming even after the action seems to continue for far too long. Her scenes, though extremely silly, are light-heartedly entertaining.

Andrew Kane as Johnson is the perfect awkward match to Jane. Johnson constantly feels left out of the group and bursts into song whenever he feels uncomfortable. Meanwhile, his sights are turned to the shallow and vivacious Temple (Mary McCool), who has no problem literally shaking her ass for new ideas for the magazine.

Kane’s best physical comedy, like that of the other actors, occurs in the hysteria of the second act as the employees attempt to pair off with their preferred other, and hide from their undesired.

The veteran employee, Otis (Graham Smith), is by far the most loveable character, winning the audience over with his forgetfulness and confused one-liners. Smith effectively recites his lines as though he’s gotten lost mid-sentence.

Otis doesn’t seem to play much of a role in the play until he takes center stage in his pursuit of Temple’s hot body. Smith’s innocent look prevents his character from coming off as an old pervert, and instead as a lovably confused old man.

Overall, the production of Hatchetman is simple and silly, but it certainly serves as a welcome break from the monotony and stress of work. Though the script and acting are over the top, the audience can still relate to the trouble and importance of keeping one’s job, as well as the hilarity of unlikely workmates and inner-office romances. All in all, the play is excellent for just a good, shallow, slightly unclean laugh.

wanna go?

Festival Stage of Winston-Salem’s Hatchetman continues through May 27 at Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $10-$37. VIP Packages, which include two balcony tickets, a private bistro table and a bottle of wine, are $50. For tickets or more information call 336.747.1414 or visit www.festivalstage.org.

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