×

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.

With:
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.

Popular on Variety

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 Laugh Factory Gives Back with

    The Laugh Factory Gives Back With Meals and Programs

    They say that everyone has a story to tell. It’s become Jamie Masada’s mission to help some people learn how to tell theirs. For 35 years, the founder of the Laugh Factory has made his main location on Sunset Boulevard home to a comedy camp for kids ages 9 to 16. While all are welcome [...]

  • Jamie Masada Dave Chapelle Laugh Factory

    Jamie Masada Reflects on 40 Years of the Laugh Factory

    When Jamie Masada was a young kid, growing up poor and Jewish in Iran, his father told him that, because he had been a good boy, he would take the son to see a moving picture. Masada didn’t know what that meant, but he went with his father to the shopping district at night. They [...]

  • Lungs review

    London Theater Review: 'Lungs' Starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith

    What, to ask the perennial theatergoer’s question, is Duncan Macmillan’s “Lungs” about? It’s about climate change, isn’t it? No, it’s a play about deciding whether to have a baby. Actually, like his earlier success “People, Places, Things,” in which Macmillan balanced a personal story with a depiction of addiction, it’s a juggling of two subjects [...]

  • Bella Bella review

    Off Broadway Review: Harvey Fierstein's 'Bella Bella'

    Harvey Fierstein is one busy guy. A Broadway institution with four Tony Awards for acting (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “Hairspray”) and playwriting (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “La Cage aux Folles”), he has also written everything from teleplays (“The Wiz Live!”, “Hairspray Live!”) to an award-winning children’s book, “The Sissy Duckling.” His movie work includes “Mrs. Doubtfire” and [...]

  • Soft Power Jeanine Tesori

    Listen: Jeanine Tesori and the 'Soft Power' of Musicals to Change Minds

    The title of “Soft Power,” the new play-cum-musical by playwright David Henry Hwang and composer Jeanine Tesori, refers to cultural influence — in this case the cultural influence of America on China, and of China on the U.S. According to Tesori, the term might also describe the force that musical theater itself can exert in [...]

  • Jane Alexander James Cromwell

    Jane Alexander, James Cromwell to Star in Broadway's 'Grand Horizons'

    Jane Alexander and James Cromwell will head up the Broadway cast of Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons.” The two Oscar nominees will star as Bill and Nancy, a couple whose five-decade-long relationship unravels when they move to a retirement community. After Nancy decides she wants a divorce, her family life is sent into disarray. The show [...]

  • Chasing Rainbows review

    New Jersey Theater Review: Judy Garland Bio 'Chasing Rainbows'

    Judy Garland’s voice was unparalleled and rich, an emotive contralto that lasted long into her later years with a loud and winning showiness to go with its melodramatic nuances. But that voice concealed a troubled backstory, as the woman born Frances Ethel Gumm toted the baggage of a closeted gay father, an ugly duckling’s insecurity [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content