WET’s Strange Odor

Absurdism fails to liberate temps from workplace discontent.

Funny thing, angst. It works well enough in rock music, where elliptical references and a generalized fury will always sell records (or rather, MP3 downloads). But a story built on raging against the machine had better offer 1) a credible inciting incident, 2) an arc that allows the audience to pull for at least one of the characters on the stage, and 3) some kind of denouement that provides at least a semblance of closure. In The Mistakes Madeline Made, now ensconced at the Washington Ensemble Theatre, playwright Elizabeth Meriwether scores one for three. Originally produced off-Broadway by Naked Angels in 2006, Meriwether's one-act dramedy revolves around the slowly crumbling world of Edna (Elise Hunt), a perky ingénuewho can barely contain her simmering resentment of what little she's been able to wring out of life thus far. She's clearly far too bright for the work she's found, filling the needs of an unseen über-wealthy family upstairs—a place only her OCD boss Beth (Mary Bliss Mather) dares to tread. Conversely, Beth, who likes to refer to herself as "the lion tamer," has never met an employee whose spirit she couldn't break. She's clearly graduated magna cum laude from some business college where smiling disapproval is taught as a training mechanism to force-feed one's assistant ever-larger chunks of crap. "I'm going to say something," Beth declaims with patient repetition, as if holding Edna's nose for the next dose of bad medicine. From the outset, Meriwether makes Edna's displeasure clear. Then she lowers the boom by introducing her war-correspondent brother, so befouled by what he'switnessed that both he and Edna reject bathing altogether. Back at work, her body odor is a weapon against Beth. Also, Edna's budding romance with a co-worker—who likes to duplicate the sounds made by the copying machine—takes off when she enlists him in an office coup. In the meantime, Edna beds a succession of writers while trying to forget the entropy of her own existence. "I'm clinically depressed," she tells one of them who thinks she's pretty. "So this is my default face." As entertainment, a DVD of The Mistakes Madeline Made would sit comfortably on a shelf between Curb Your Enthusiasm and Extras. In other words, it's the kind of comedy that makes you wince as often as laugh. Meriwether's play is 90 minutes of brilliantly executed self-indulgence. Can Meriwether write? Hell to the yeah she can. Does she take her audience for granted and turn up her own nose at convention just as Edna does? The answer is transparently yes. What cannot be faulted is the production itself. Hunt and Mather are riveting foils, while Ray Tagavilla is a hoot and a half as the copy-copier Wilson. As Beth's brother, it's easy to picture Taylor Maxwell embedded with the troops, standing alongside the late NBC correspondent David Bloom. Noah Benezra gives just enough spin to Edna's hat trick of conquests—he plays them all—to make them amusing and distinct. In his direction, WET's founding member Michael Place sets a pace for the show that ebbs and flows with Edna'sgathering gloom. The set (by Tommer Peterson) and lights (Andrew D. Smith) do an admirable job of contrasting the onset of Edna's filthy rebellion with the pristine office decor. And costumer Christine Tschirgi leaves no doubt that pink and gray are the new brown and blue in business attire. stage@seattleweekly.com

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