John Amedro and Scott Klavan in P.O.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthy but flawed attempt to articulate the predicament of the modern American worker.
Scott Klavan has apparently been listening at doors - the doors to countless employee break rooms across the country. His new play P.O. presents us with opposing views on the plight of the modern American worker. Set in the back room of a Queens post office, the play addresses downsizing, layoffs, pension erosion, affirmative action, union bashing, and the acute sense that middle class job security is a thing of the past.
Paul (Klavan), a "floater" in both work and life, preaches acceptance and adaptation. His strategy for coping with the stress of insecurity is to live in the moment, taking pleasure in sex, dancing and New Age practices like Tai Chi and anal breathing. Mike (John Amedro) is the original hard-boiled, skeptical loner. Cursing the government, the union, and his ex-wife, his attitude toward Paul's philosophy is "So breathing through your asshole pays the electric bill?"
Why this promising premise fails to pay off dramatically is a question on which I can only offer a few opinions. (Granted I saw a noon performance, hardly an ideal time for theater of any kind.) Knowing both Klavan and director Ian Streicher, I can personally attest to the taste and talent of both. But at least in its current production, P.O. is neither man's finest hour and fifteen minutes.
Even if I didn't know Scott Klavan, it would be immediately obvious to me that his trademark diffidence and self-effacing charm are exactly the wrong qualities for the brash, quirky Paul. As written, Paul is an appealing, original character. But his trumpet-like declarations don't resonate when played on Klavan's melancholy clarinet. If the point is that Paul isn't exactly what he professes to be, fine. But we have to believe that Paul believes himself if we're to care whether he persuades Mike.
As Mike, Amedro is the right type: rugged, handsome, and taciturn. But he doesn't give his character much shading or variety. It isn't helpful that he stands for long periods in rigid, 90 degree profile, and always on the same side of the stage. Again, I get the point: the man is stuck in his ways. But the performance gets stuck in one gear and stays there.
The result is zero dramatic tension and little emotional payoff. Nothing much happens plot-wise, so character and relationship are all. The two men converse, and spar a little, as they sort mail. (Whether this is the way mail is sorted in a real post office I don't know, but the onstage action seems arbitrary and at times illogical.) Eventually the men make disclosures and confessions that lead to some brief physical combat. Alas the fighting is poorly staged and unconvincing. Likewise, their supposedly climactic trashing of the room lacks any real feeling of release.
Unreal stage fighting is one of my theatrical pet peeves. Another is the static, symmetrical arrangement of the playing space. The Fringe is notoriously tech-unfriendly and Streicher has wisely kept the setting simple. But ultimately this workplace drama lacks a credible sense of work or place.
The play does have some striking ideas and passages. Klavan has a great ear for dialogue, and he obviously empathizes with the wounded cries of the embattled middle-class American worker. In this incarnation of P.O., however, he hasn't yet succeeded in giving that worker a compelling dramatic voice.
(P.O. plays at The Kraine Theatre, 85 East 4th Street, through August 28th. Remaining performances are Thursday 8/26 at 4:30pm and Saturday 8/28 at 2pm. For more information visit www.pofringeplay.com. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, and are available at FringeNYC.com, by calling 866.468.7619, or in person at FringeCENTRAL, located at 1 East 8th Street at 5th Avenue. There is NO LATE SEATING for Fringe NYC shows.)