A comedy about a frustrated government manager breaking all the rules to accomplish something worthwhile sounds like a satisfying premise, right? I was definitely excited to see Jason Ford’s GS-14, given my own interest in politics and government. That being said, the show has the same DNA of fulfilling workplace comedies like “The Office” or “Office Space”, and I constantly felt on the cusp of real enjoyment, but for one small problem: I actually wanted someone to punch the main character in the face.
In the Fringe program, Hank, played by Seth Vaughn, is touted as a champion of efficient government, a Robin Hood curbing the waste of taxpayer money and serving the greater good. In reality, Hank is a much less likable figure, constantly manipulating his fellow employees like chess pieces, both at work and in their personal lives, in order to create the perfect medical software for first-responders.
Hank’s domineering nature would be more acceptable were his noble mission to save lives through technology given any real significance in the realm of the play. However, both the software and Hank’s altruistic motivations are only referenced in the most vague sense. His purported desire to serve humanity through his work, no matter the cost to his image, is largely undercut by his own lack of humanity. The bottom line is that the audience just isn’t given sufficient reason to care about Hank, much less put up with his difficult, boorish personality through an hour and forty five minutes of smug sarcasm.
However, despite this glaring issue and the bothersome heat of the Bodega theater, GS-14 does deliver several hilarious and well-acted scenes. The actors gamely fulfill their varied roles in the office atmosphere, making the best of the quirks and conflicts Ford has crafted for them. Ricardo Frederick Evans steals every scene he’s in as Theo, an idealistic programmer who wears pantsuits, dresses, and heels to make his own statement on the plight of women in society. Bonnie (Wynn Creasy), gives the play some much-needed warmth in her dual role as Hank’s competitor and conscience. Credit goes to Seth Vaughn, as well, for his excellent comic timing and uncanny ability to maintain Hank’s wearying persona for so long.
It’s hard to tell if Hank’s grating one-dimensionality is the result of Vaughn’s performance or Ford’s writing, but if the audience were provided a bit more evidence of a real person beneath the bitter exterior, it might just elevate the show above the level of snarky sitcom. Or maybe I’m just missing the point. The program does say that the playwright did work in government for years. Perhaps Ford is speaking from personal experience, making the statement that success within the federal bureaucracy actually requires that you become totally hated. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some job applications to withdraw.
See it if you’re a government employee. You enjoy “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, “The Office”, and “Seinfeld” but wish the main characters had almost no redeeming qualities.
Skip it if you don’t find office politics funny. You have difficulty putting up with sarcasm or rooting for jerks.