“I do love the office at Christmastime,” exclaims the portly, oppressively exuberant Mr. Bahnson (Rob Grabowski), surveying his bleak cubicular kingdom. He is addressing his subordinate Martin (Kevin Lambert), a corporate Everynerd who manages his repressed anger and boredom by watching horror movies at his desk and secretly writing his own fantasy novel, with himself as swashbuckling hero. Tonight is Martin’s moment of truth, as he learns that he has been accepted into business school and must decide his future.
The Ruckus’ world-premiere presentation of Daniel Caffrey’s “Little Triggers” is a sharp, well-executed and provocative blend of comedy and horror. Combining equal parts Charles Dickens and Rod Serling, Caffrey captures the compartmentalized mentality of middle-class urbanites of a certain age. It is the point when the tug-of-war between dreams and economic realities, imagination and survival, can become so painful that the drab routines and paltry rewards of the day job make it seem like an ongoing Creature Feature.
Director Allison Shoemaker elicits strong performances from Neal Starbird and Derek Van Barham as too odd angels (or perhaps devils) vying for Martin’s soul and forcing him to introduce a firm yes or no into his passive and fearful existence. Caffrey’s dialogue and plotting are simultaneously pointed and open-ended, evoking more than they explain. His story has an extra convolution or two, and the ending is more equivocal than decisive—but for the Martins of the world, an uneasy compromise is perhaps the nearest thing to triumph.
I would be remiss not to mention the play’s excellent use of puppets, giving a nightmare quality to this chamber theater piece. These hell-Muppets manage to be both cute and horrifying, embodying both the chipper tone of office life, as well as its chronic tedium and petty humiliation.
“It always hurts when you haven’t done it in awhile,” says one character, referring to creating, thinking, feeling, living. “Little Triggers” gives a chilling fantasy spin to the forces that turn us against ourselves and transform us into impotent, voiceless victims. This is the real horror movie of our time, and this play shows us in compelling fashion what monsters we engender by not fighting back. (Hugh Iglarsh)
The Ruckus Theater at Side Project Theatre, 1439 West Jarvis, (773)973-2150. Through February 12.