“The applicant must have a bachelor’s degree and at least 2 years of relevant experience.”
These are the words that the audience first encounters during In This Economy. Throughout the play, quick flashes of language that function as makeshift scene titles are displayed on a projector towards the back of the stage. Except when they are ironic, the titles are all statements that most of us have read millions of times on job applications, other job applications, and still, more job applications.
At various points, the play’s supporting characters would make it seem that protagonist James (TD Smith) is struggling with things like job applications: otherwise, the logic goes, he would have a job, and there would be be no play.
Here, though, it is not that simple. If In This Economy is trying to show us anything, it’s that James can do a pretty good job at pretending he wants to get a pretty good job. Actually obtaining said job and being held accountable for something important at that job is a completely different thing.
At the end of the day, as well as in the middle of the day and whenever he gets out of bed, it seems like all James really wants to do is watch SVU episodes or make fantasy football spreadsheets.
Some people describe this archetype for a male character as a recent college graduate. Others would talk about an open-minded young adult with an infinite set of possibilities. And in more blunt circles, one can always apply the phrase “man-child.”
Whatever you call it, this play is about James and his quite possibly eternal quest to find meaningful employment. If you’re a generally indifferent, stubborn, “funemployed” male twenty-something and you go see this play, In This Economy will hit so close to home that you might have no choice but to go directly back to your Mom’s couch and, adorned by your most comfortable blanket, flip open a Chuck Klosterman book and then get bored after a few pages before finally belting out some T Swift lyrics to yourself.
TD Smith was so convincing as James that I wanted to invite him to play beer pong with me after the play was done. Sure, it was a Sunday night, but I knew his character didn’t have work in the morning.
The story goes like this: James is at a party and meets a pretty girl named Emily (played a very compelling Anna Jackson). After she tells him she works at a PR firm – “PR…seems like a pretty good racket” is the best response James can muster – the two have this exchange:
Emily: What do you do?
Emily: Oh, I guess I shouldn’t assume people have jobs in this economy.
Emily’s nurturing support from this moment on is what drives the ensuing relationship. She likes him because he’s funny and care-free, while he’s attracted to her can-do attitude and the cute corporate skirts that go with it. The problem for James and Emily is that things can’t stay the same: for all kinds of reasons, he needs a job to ultimately be with her. Forget being out of someone’s league; James is basically outside of Emily’s economy.
The play features a lot of gchat. This pits James and Emily as captains of two competing gchat tag teams. With each of their best friends, the hilarious while simultaneously employed “shaky” Jake (Chris Aldrich) and Kate (Dana Maas), who has a serious boyfriend, the four type it out in consistently hilarious scenes sprinkled throughout the play, with James at home and the other three at work.
The gchat conversations are displayed on the projector, which perfectly accomodates a 21st century audience obsessed with multi-tasking anyway. In a script filled with laughs, these scenes stand out as the ones I’ll remember the most. All at once, the guys are chatting, the girls are chatting, and Emily and James are going back and forth in a setup that is ripe for the social network commentary so graciously provided by writer and director John Krizel.
Get there early so you have a good seat, and make sure you read the stuff that’s up on the projector that the characters aren’t enunciating. It’s all hysterical.
With compelling performances, a truly witty script, and a debate-sparking conclusion, In This Economy was everything I could have hoped for from a play that is so current and relevant. You’ll have to decide for yourself how you feel about the ending, but regardless, this is a play that rarely takes the easy way out.
Go see In This Economy if you want to laugh, and also if you want to think about the complicated relationship between love and work. And gchat.
In This Economy has 5 shows, ending July 29, 2012, at Redrum at Fort Fringe, 612 L St NW, Washington, DC
Details and tickets