fiona kirkpatrick parsons & rob mcintyre
photo by devaan ingraham
Department of Common Sense is a fun little play by Ryan Van Horne that pokes fun at the absurdity of bureaucracy in the office. We begin with Adele Courage, exasperated that Maintenance refuses to change her dimming light bulb until it is completely blown out and then refuses to change it because her office does not meet the proper requirements for the type of bulb that she is requesting. This becomes a job for Sophia Smart and the newly installed Department of Common Sense, whose job it is to snuff out the inefficiencies and administrative headaches that plague the office of politician Frank Walker and his associates.
Van Horne’s biggest strength here are his beautifully clear characterizations of the archetypes that inhabit the office. They are also brought to vivid life by some very talented actors. Lianne Perry is brash and sassy as Adele Courage, who is annoyed at the continually ludicrous run around she is given in her pursuit of something as inane as a light bulb as well as the sexual tension between her and boss, Frank Walker. Walker is played suavely by Mark Adam. Yet, the most hilarious performance is of the bumbling rule-pusher Richard (Dick) Clod played with impeccable timing and great physicality by Rob McIntyre.
Van Horne creates a hilarious and clear satire of office existence in Adele’s office, but his attempt at political satire in Walker’s office is a little less clear and lacking in punch. I wanted this aspect of the play to be sharper. I also wanted there to be more Absurdity and inherent hypocrisy connected with the Department of Common Sense (as in 1984). Perhaps Sophia Smart could solve Adele’s problem, but it would be more interesting if it were in a way that is unexpected, unorthodox and also rooted in the same satire as the rest of the play.
Director Nick Jupp does a great job of capturing the feeling of an office space on stage and has a good sense of pacing to maximize the comedy in the piece. One thing that I would suggest that he keep in mind is working to maintain the illusion of invisible walls and other barriers. Adele and Walker’s offices both had the tendency to grow and shrink fluidly depending on how many actors were onstage.
In all, Department of Common Sense is an amusing piece of theatre that pokes fun at the ridiculous situations in office and political bureaucracies that a great many of us can ardently relate to. It is not at all a scathing satire, but rather a gentle teasing meant not to be considered severely, but intended to entertain its audience nicely and it has succeeded.
Department of Common Sense played at DANSpace as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival and has closed.