owen carey

Portland Center Stage (PCS) has been doing all right by me this season: I Am My Own Wife and Misalliance were solid productions, and there's some interesting stuff on the horizon (The Pillowman, in particular). Their current late-night production of Adam Bock's The Thugs, though, went a good distance toward squandering the goodwill I've been feeling lately toward Portland's most well-funded theater company.

This hour-long show takes place in a law office over the course of two days, where office workers highlight files, chat, and bicker. A temp shows up one day and is gone the next, and everyone gossips about a rumor that people in the building are being killed off one by one.

PCS's website describes this play as "Kafka-esque," which is apparently shorthand for "it's boring, and nothing really happens" (Sorry, Franz!). None of the actors are multidimensional enough to be interesting—if this surface-level representation is some kind of comment on the superficial nature of interoffice interactions, it doesn't read well, but I suspect it's actually that the script doesn't give any of the actors much to work with.

Kelsey Tyler's depiction of Bart, the office homo, was particularly offensive. I would've hoped progressive Portland had moved past the days of treating homosexuality like a running gag, but based on this production I'm forced to conclude otherwise: Bart wears a pink shirt and a fanny pack and when he makes a reference to a past relationship with another man, it's delivered like a punchline.

As my theater date pointed out, if you're going to produce an office comedy in a post-Office Space world, it had better be pretty fucking funny. It tries, but The Thugs is not very funny at all; nor is it suitably dark or insightful. In fact, it's been a while since I've had my time so thoroughly wasted in the name of "art."

This show is particularly frustrating simply because PCS can do better than this—and they should do better than this. They've got the money, they've got the talent, and they've got the name recognition to fill more seats than any other company in town could dream of. It's deeply frustrating to see all those resources wasted on pointless, halfhearted productions like this one.