Four characters battle existential dread in an Amazon-like Fulfillment Center | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Four characters battle existential dread in an Amazon-like Fulfillment Center

The Red Orchid cast is adept at humanizing some incredibly flawed human beings.

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Four quietly desperate souls struggle to abate their modern economic dread and suffocating loneliness in Abe Koogler's 2017 tragicomic one-act. To the chagrin of his city-loving long-term partner (Toya Turner), a young middle manager (Jose Nateras) accepts a six-month trial position in an Amazon-like megawarehouse in suburban New Mexico, a stepping stone in their journey to a next chapter in Seattle. Predictably, upon uprooting and relocating their lives from New York, the couple fails to find a sense of new normalcy in a land of shuttered blinds, disillusionment, and unused sidewalks.

What differentiates Koogler's play from other suburbia-as-existential-limbo stories is a wary, perhaps misanthropic suggestion that a bohemian fidelity to youth and adventure is equally as doomed and futile a course of action as giving in to the man. When we meet Suzan (Natalie West)—a housing-insecure aging folk singer with a broken car and breaking back—she's suffering the indignity of a warehouse-mandated, stopwatch-timed walking test around a course of safety cones as part of an interview for a seasonal gig. Grasping for any sense of intimacy, she befriends a mysterious loner (Steve Schine) who is similarly haunted by bygone relationships.

Jess McLeod's taut, volatile production for A Red Orchid Theatre features some truly excellent beat-by-beat scene work by a cast adept at humanizing some incredibly flawed human beings. And for all of Fulfillment Center's Joni Mitchell-scored angst, the glimmers of compassion and intimacy shared between characters read as authentic and earned.   v

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