Descent (A Darwinian Comedy), Aardvark, at Chicago Dramatists. The most disappointing aspect of local playwright Tom Patrick’s black comedy is its failure to establish a consistent tone. The staccato dialogue and wicked insights of the first two scenes establish Descent as a modern-day comedy of manners, as a timid corporate suit is pitted against a motivational speaker and a smarmy executive against his reptilian boss. Too bad the script takes such an abrupt turn in the second act, infecting the otherwise humorous proceedings with a note of blunt fatalism. And while Patrick’s scathing critique of backstabbing office politics hits the mark more often than not, that’s due more to the script’s broad range of targets than to the writer’s deadly accuracy.

In the longer second act Patrick does a fine job of tying up loose ends from the first two seemingly unrelated scenes. He’s even better at connecting every element in the play to his central theme: the dehumanizing effects of corporate culture. And Barry Bennett and Louis Stockwell’s unique, haunting musical score offers endless food for thought. But ultimately Patrick’s characters lack humanity; despite the cast’s best efforts, none of his four office drones ever gets beyond the travesty stage. For a script based on Darwinian principles, Descent offers precious little in the way of character evolution.