CUBICLE RATS, Conspiracy Theatre Company, at Second City, Donny's Skybox Studio. Like a lot of jaunts to the office-humor supply room, this show hinges on the weirdness of the workplace. Even the best-matched colleagues are bound to become surreally familiar through endless on-the-job shoulder rubbing, a state Cubicle Rats hyperextends ferociously. Its six coworkers (Joel Gray, Marz Timms, Jake Martin, Joanna Buese, Josh Walker, and Dori Goldman) drift through a lucid catatonia, seeming to one another--and to the audience--like ghosts or monsters sprung from a lithium dream. There's a perfectly functional story, but echoing their characters' occupational detachment, the actors sleepwalk around it, throwing their grotesques into harsher and harsher focus. Only six virtuoso performers could pull off such a difficult approach.
The dreamlike presentation echoes the piece's collaborative creation: this is that rare thing, a script generated improvisationally but polished to the point where you wouldn't necessarily guess it. There's a lovely surefootedness to the cast's portrayals, which feel grounded despite blatant overrefinement and mannered excess. Director Dan Izzo has edited "hundreds of improvised scenes" of caricature-driven material down to a tidy, well-paced mess that both hits plot points and ignores them, expertly moving the action along. Thanks to uniformly excellent technique and sly, perceptive conceits--nothing anyone's doing is accidental--whatever's not funny here is transfixing.