Below the belt, Frump Tucker Theatre Company, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Richard Dresser has a savage eye, and I love him for it. No other living playwright captures quite so well the hopelessness and desperation that lies just below the surface of contemporary American life.

In Below the Belt Dresser turns his caustic eye on corporate America, creating a workplace that could pass for a prison: surrounded by high fences, forced to work in cramped quarters, workers and executives alike must conform to strict schedules and humiliating rituals. In this plant, set in “a distant land,” Dresser shows us three frustrated corporate types–two backstabbing middle managers and their manipulative boss–as they go through their soul-deadening routine.

What makes Below the Belt different from, say, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is that Dresser refuses to candy coat the office politics. There’s no secondary love story. No hope for redemption. No chance that the gruff boss really has a heart of gold. Dresser’s boss, magnificently played by Ray Holloway, sold his soul so long ago he’s forgotten he ever had one. Now his only pleasure comes from torturing the poor fools who work under him. Happily, director Ruth Farrimond does nothing to blunt Dresser’s sharp message, which is performed in a deadpan style that maximizes his understated wit and underscores his play’s depressive tone.

–Jack Helbig