Five actors stand in front of a walls of cardboard boxes. Four of them are wearing light-blue work shirts and vests, as in a retail store. On the front right is a woman in a light tan cardigan, holding a clipboard and confronting a man who is facing her.
The ensemble of In the Back/On the Floor at Stage Left Theatre Credit: Bobbi Masters

If verisimilitude and timeliness were all it took to create a great play, Ken Green’s world premiere comedy-drama about working in big-box retail would be a home run. Its dialogue captures every cliche and bit of doublespeak in the corporate human resources dictionary, not to mention every grouse and plaint ever uttered in a workplace—and Stage Left chose to open it just before International Workers’ Day. Under Rachel Van’s direction, its cast members form a tight ensemble (and is this not the highest praise for any Chicago theatrical effort?), with the occasional breakout performance when actors playing workers reappear as obnoxious customers. A training “video,” enacted by Ashley-Marie Chávez and Loredan Krug downstage, punctuates the work scenes and offers the best showcase for the playwright’s ridicule of company cant. (“We’re a family,” “Your work provides freedom”—“Arbeit Macht Frei,” anyone?)  

In the Back/On the Floor
Through 5/28: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 2 PM; Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago, 773-883-8830,, $30-$40

But spending 90 minutes or so with complaining coworkers is something we all need to get paid for, and once the piece devolves into agitprop about unionizing, it abandons both characters and plot to hammer home the theme. It also ends with a whimper rather than a Norma Rae bang, one scene too late. When the training-video spokespeople break character to reveal themselves as actors rather than real employees, they plume themselves on their superior working conditions and observe, “That’s why we’re members of the actors’ union.” The play should end right there but doesn’t. Still, it’s in keeping with Stage Left’s socially conscious mission and with the zeitgeist in which people are returning to the understanding of unions as a defense against the indefensible.