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.