In the absence of vision quests and other life-defining rituals, our contemporary self-concepts often are shaped by the seemingly random whims of parentage and profession, as is the case with Genny — raised on a Georgia chicken farm and now an office temp in Seattle — in Dan Dietz’s world-preem comedy “tempOdyssey.” As the title suggests, beneath Dietz’s witty explication of temp life lies a paean to Genny’s epic struggle as a human being in a wondrous and often unforgiving universe.
Dietz’s imaginative script — which shifts between the heavens, Seattle and Georgia at the drop of a No. 2 pencil or a misfiled financial statement — would present a daunting challenge for any theater company. The solutions displayed by director Chip Walton’s team at Denver’s Curious Theater Company prompt delight with their ingenuity and crackerjack execution, including a cosmic kiss that transports us from a mundane office building to the edge of Creation and back in seconds.
Riding atop these eye-popping shifts in space-time are mind-bending monologues, tightly crafted confrontations and amusing repartee that tick down to Genny’s gut issues, represented by a glowing bomb set to blow. Her troubled past comes to a head among a towering maze of filing cabinets in a sub-basement hidden below the myriad corridors of high-tech Seattle, where she totters on the verge of blowing up her world and becoming collateral damage.
As our modern-day Odysseus, Dee Covington’s shifts in age and disposition are a marvel — her voice at times dulcet, her dialect a subtle twang, her girlishness evident. Then, transplanted from one coast to the other in the next scene, we hear no trace of regionalism in a voice aged by a personal mythology born of traumatic coincidences and nightmares. Covington amazes with her mile-a-minute pacing of Dietz’s phantasmagoric descriptions and anxious outbursts, deftly gear-shifting as needed for comic effect or life-altering considerations.
Genny’s latest job at Ithacatech-nosolutions.com comes with both mentor and nemesis in the person of Jim (Jason Henning), who was trained by the best temps of the age. “I will do everything for you but be yours,” is how he frames his acquired wisdom to Genny.
Henning crafts a breezy Jim — part elf, part momzer — who connives his way under Genny’s skin until that fateful moment when their lips meet. Then, just as has been predicted by company scientists, we see the galaxies can, indeed, turn themselves inside out. Henning’s impish energy, both lovable and annoying, casts a humorous glow on Genny’s otherwise improbable and dark version of events.
Rhonda Brown’s imperturbable turns — as the oversexed secretary, icy temp-goddess Fran and Genny’s bible-fearing Mama — along with Verl J. Hite’s genuine, no-nonsense Daddy and Michael McNeill’s panoply of company fixtures — the yes man, the calculating scientist, the gopher — feed the madcap atmosphere.
In concert, Shannon McKinney’s lighting and Charles Dean Packard’s scenic design pull off effects generally reserved for the cinema.
About the only place where the production fails to realize Dietz’s vision is in the last scene, when an elevator tone is supposed to signal Genny’s conveyance to a place of hope and renewed opportunity. Not having been provided enough of a bridge back to reality, we instead fear for her life at the hands of police snipers.
Though the world can be as manipulative and neurotic as Genny sees it, her survival, like our own, depends on overcoming the fight-or-flight instinct and trusting others. A deep breath before her exit would have gone a long way toward conveying Genny’s catharsis and budding transformation into the enlightened temphood for which Fran and Jim have coached her and for which Dietz’s script calls.