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The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century

A story about the human condition, the future of work, and the ills of corporate capitalism.

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A scene from Lauren Holmes and Jaclyn Biskup’s adaptation of “The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century” at the Theaterlab (Photo credit: Pelenguino Photo)

The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century is a tone-poem play adapted by Lauren Holmes and Jaclyn Biskup from a novel of the same name by Danish poet and novelist Olga Ravn (translated by Martin Aitken). Biskup directs an ensemble of four who portray multiple crew members on a spaceship sent to search for a new planet for the people of Earth. The novel’s structure of narrative reports to tell a story about the human condition, the future of work, and the ills of late-stage corporate capitalism does not transfer well to a dramatic stage presentation.

The story is told in the form of a series of first-person memos and reports collected from a broad cross-section of the crew of the spacecraft called the Six Thousand Ship. The statements were made during an 18-month investigation by a company known as the “organization.” The company was investigating the reactions of the crew of humans and humanoids after strange objects from the planet New Discovery were brought on board. These objects appeared to trigger strong emotional responses in both groups and nearly caused the collapse of the mission.

Aurea Tomeski, Christopher McLinden, Molly Leland, and Paul Budraitis represent the many crew members who contributed to the investigation. They effectively embody the various characters, engagingly providing excerpts from the various memos and reports that detailed the events following the discovery of the objects. The presentation is a free-form flow, almost stream of consciousness, but without much depth, since the actors only briefly inhabit each of their characters. Also, some exchanges do not show the shift from human to humanoid. The reliance on narrative reports from a large and diverse group of individuals presented by four actors leads to a lack of solid character development.

A scene from Lauren Holmes and Jaclyn Biskup’s adaptation of “The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century” at the Theaterlab (Photo credit: Pelenguino)

Early in the play, one of McLinden’s characters states that he has been told there are issues with his emotional reaction pattern related to his visits to the rooms with the objects. In the course of revealing this information, he says something that indicates he is humanoid:

“I need to train my cognitive flexibility if I’m to be in the crew on an equal footing with those who were born. Is this a human problem? If so, I’d like to keep it.”

Later in the play, McLinden speaks lines that indicate that the speaker is human:

“I do believe that we can deal with the humanoid section of the crew, the unborn, certainly. I’ll be happy to oversee implementation of a remote shutdown program and facilitate reuploading of those members of the crew who will benefit most significantly from a minor memory loss.”

Each of the performers presents similar shifts in character type without a clear understanding of who the actor is depicting at any given moment. How is the audience to engage with a character if the characters are not clearly defined? The gradual changes in attitude and behavior of the humans and humanoids are revealed in the narrative, but the context is not clear. Are these changes a metaphor for present-day socio-political behaviors? Is the depiction of the company as a remote, distracted organization a commentary on capitalist institutions?

A scene from Lauren Holmes and Jaclyn Biskup’s adaptation of “The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century” at the Theaterlab (Photo credit: Pelenguino)

The recitation of the details in the statements made by the various crew members demonstrated that a breakdown in the social order occurred on the ship. The working and social interactions of the humans and humanoids began to change dramatically, with one clear example being the group dynamics of the dining hall, where the two groups began to segregate themselves. The emotional reactions of individuals in both groups began to fall outside what was considered normal within each group. Conflicts began to occur between and within the two groups, and through all this, the company’s representatives seemed to be detached from the unfolding events, only engaging when the situation began to jeopardize the mission. And that engagement, as these statements from the investigation underscore, shows the emotional and intellectual detachment of the company from its workers.

The production is presented in a room the size of an office or medium-sized bedroom. It seats 15 people along three walls, with the actors occupying chairs near each corner. The lighting and sound consoles are along the fourth wall. The scenic design by Nora Marlow Smith uses a limited number of props to present an alien environment with a glowing shroud-covered object at the center. The lighting design by Jackie Fox adds dramatically to the setting with portable tube-like lighting fixtures that change color at different points in the show. Adding the sound design by Sabina Mariam Ali completes the transformation of the set into an otherworldly environment. Kristy Hall’s costume design also adds to the otherworldliness of the production with white jumpsuits and futuristic-looking shoes.

The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century (through June 30, 2024)

The Mill

TheaterLab, 357 West 36th Street, 3rd floor, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1201639

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

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About Scotty Bennett (85 Articles)
Scotty Bennett is a retired businessman who has worn many hats in his life, the latest of which is theater critic. For the last twelve years he has been a theater critic and is currently the treasurer of the American Theatre Critics Association and a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. He has been in and around the entertainment business for most of his life. He has been an actor, director, and stage hand. He has done lighting, sound design, and set building. He was a radio disk jockey and, while in college ran a television studio and he even knows how to run a 35mm arc lamp projector.

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