Laura and the Sea examines our working relationships | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Laura and the Sea examines our working relationships

A coworker's suicide leads to soul-searching in Kate Tarker's darkly comic meditation.

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We spend at least 40 hours a week next to them and countless more rehashing our interactions, but how well do we really know our coworkers? Laura and the Sea, a Rivendell Theatre Ensemble world premiere by Kate Tarker, directed by Devon de Mayo, examines both the false sense of closeness and utter disconnection that can come with close proximity of desks, not hearts and minds.

After Laura (Tara Mallen) commits suicide at a company outing, her colleagues at a small travel agency start a cringeworthy memorial blog that serves as a sharp, Office Space-style satire of what mourning has become in the digital age. Her coworkers may call her "one of the top travel agents of our generation," but we quickly realize they knew little about her—not even her favorite color, much less her inner life. Toggling between present-day e-mail exchanges, blog posts (some containing past events acted out by the ensemble), and other flashbacks, the production plays with movement, muddled memories, and intentional silence in a way that heightens the humor as well as the heartbreak.

While the script could use some focus and trimming of secondary narratives around climate change and space travel, this uniquely staged and conceived workplace dramedy maintains its vitality and intrigue thanks to a superb cast. Mallen nails melancholic Laura with lines like "middle age is just a paper cut to the soul," Mark Ulrich gives off sparks during a silent tantrum as boss man Jack, and Adithi Chandrashekar brings annoying manager Annie to a moving catharsis with the line "we were so close to being close."  v

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