Mongrel Island

It's set in an anodyne workplace with depressed staff under the sway of a patronising boss, but "The Office" it ain't.

Marie - Robyn Addison
Only Joe - Simon Kunz
Elvis - Shane Zaza
Honey - Golda Resheuvel
Pippop - Joanna Holden

It’s set in an anodyne workplace with depressed staff under the sway of a patronising boss, but “The Office” it ain’t. “Mongrel Island” starts as a portrait of life (and, possibly, death) in a data input firm but winds up with torrential cascades of ballet pumps and an encounter with a giant shrimp by the name of Jimmy. So far so surreal, but although Ed Harris’s intriguing play has momentous passages, it lacks dramatic momentum.

Everything focuses around twentysomething Marie (outwardly calm but increasingly rattled Robyn Addison), who is initially the sanest of three office workers stuck in the daily groove of typing information into the computer system. On either side of designer Hayley Grindle’s horribly beige, featureless office sit the permanently unshaken up Elvis (Shane Zaza) – given to wordless agreement in the manner of his namesake “Urr-hurr-huh” – and faintly sleazy, middle-aged Only Joe (Simon Kunz) for whom annoyance is a modus vivendi.

Add a boss, Honey (precision engineered Golda Resheuvel), who couldn’t be further from her name, and the stage is set for a standard issue hideousness-of-the-workplace play. Harris, however, is intent upon disarming audiences and not just with his characters’ hidden desires. Not for nothing does Elvis quote e.e. cummings’s line: “There’s a hell of a good universe next door.”

As the office’s deadlines pile-up, so does the strangeness. Marie starts working nights in order to win time off for family reasons – her gently played phone conversations with her distant father have a touch of true sadness. But the more tired she grows from overwork, the more bizarre the action becomes in Steve Marmion’s crisply staged production.

Fantastic (in every sense) relationships start to form, not least between Marie and a little old mittel-European peasant cleaner (beamingly expressive Joanna Holden) who bustles around at night communicating solely with the word “Pippop.”

The more bizarre and rebellious the dreamily non-naturalistic encounters grow, with stage imagery to match, the more expectations rise that the seemingly diffuse depictions will somehow coalesce. Frustratingly, they fail to do so. Harris may be arguing that everyone is stuck in their own worlds that collide but never connect, but without a more unified way of showing this, energy subsides and the play falls prey to the deflating syndrome of having closing scenes for each character, each of which feels like the play’s ending but isn’t.

Mongrel Island” suffers from a lack of structural control and drive, but Harris’s switches between satire and tenderness are impressively idiosyncratic. His quirky handling of subcutaneous pain lurking beneath outward display mark him out as a talent with potential.

Mongrel Island

Soho Theater, London; 140 seats; £15 $25 top

Production: A Soho Theater presentation of a play in one act by Ed Harris. Directed by Steve Marmion.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Hayley Grindle; lighting, Oliver Fenwick; sound and music, Tom Mills; production stage manager, Martha Mamo. Opened July 21, 2011; reviewed July 26. Running time: 1 HOUR, 25 MIN.

Cast: Marie - Robyn Addison
Only Joe - Simon Kunz
Elvis - Shane Zaza
Honey - Golda Resheuvel
Pippop - Joanna Holden

More Legit

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    StubHub Refunds $500,000 to Customers Shut Out by New York Blackout

    Saturday’s blackout in New York had an outsized effect on the city’s nightlife, with Madison Square Garden and the entire Broadway district seeing multiple shows cancelled due to the the power outage. As a result, StubHub has refunded more than $500,000 worth of tickets for cancelled events. According to a statement from the company, the StubHub [...]

  • Warner Music Group Logo

    Warner Music Acquires Musical Theater Indie First Night Records

    Warner Music Group has acquired First Night Record, an independent record label for West End and Broadway musical theatre cast recordings. The company will be overseen by WMG’s Arts Music Division, led by President Kevin Gore. First Night co-founder John Craig will join the Arts Music team under a multi-year consulting agreement to identify and record musical theatre productions in [...]

  • Broadway

    Broadway Back In Biz After Power Outage Ends

    The bright lights of Broadway were back on Sunday morning as midtown Manhattan recovered from a power outage that lasted nearly seven hours in some areas. Social media was full of examples of how New Yorkers rose to the occasion after the power went out on a hot Saturday night shortly before 7 p.m. ET. [...]

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    Power Restored in New York City After Massive Outage Hits Broadway

    UPDATED: Power has gradually been restored to Midtown Manhattan and the theater district after what New York City officials described as a rolling blackout that darkened Times Square and other high-traffic areas on Saturday night. Officials said all power should be restored to the 73,000 customers affected by the outage by midnight ET. Local media [...]

  • Slave Play

    Controversial 'Slave Play' Is Broadway Bound

    “Slave Play,” a controversial drama that examined race and sexuality, is moving to Broadway for a limited run. Written by theatrical wunderkind Jeremy O. Harris, “Slave Play” was a sensation when it ran at the New York Theatre Workshop, drawing such bold-faced names as Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, and Tony Kushner. The show will debut at [...]

  • Mary Said What She Said

    Critic's Notebook: Seeing Isabelle Huppert and Dimitris Papaioannou in Paris

    “Do you miss Paris?” I get that question a lot, but never know what to say. How could I not? The two years I spent in that splendid city covering international cinema for Variety changed my life. “What do you miss most about Paris?” That’s a tough one too. The booksellers on the sidewalk in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content