Famous Door Theatre Company

at Jane Addams Center Hull House

America doesn’t know it, but it’s been waiting since around 1984 for a play like Tiny Dimes. Ever since words like junk bond, megamerger, and corporate raider started falling out of people’s mouths, ever since yuppies started gabbing on car phones in their Beemers, average Joes have been waiting for this. Tiny Dimes is a joyously vengeful satire of corporate America in the 80s. And for the majority of Americans who didn’t “get in on the ground floor” and become “key players” it’s more refreshing than seeing Michael Milken behind bars.

Tiny Dimes takes all that’s yucky about yuppiedom, chops it up, throws it around, then glues it back together in an absurd collage of hilarious, believable stereotypes. But this play by New York writer Peter Mattei, produced by Famous Door Theatre Company, doesn’t just spoof the people caught up in the 80s money game. It spoofs their struggle. And it comes up with the conclusion that such struggles are absurd, meaningless, and basically stupid.

Throughout the play five young corporate types named Richard, Jane, Sara, Neil, and David are in a high-powered meeting at a conference center. Their meeting has no known purpose. They have no specific goals. They don’t even know why they’re there.

But they do know that if they leave they’ll be left out of the game and things will move forward without them. What these things are and where they will move no one knows. The five are trapped in an existential hell, like characters in Sartre and Ionesco plays. And it tickles a nonyuppie’s heart to see that they can’t get out.

So they stay and compete, like big dogs tearing at a piece of meat–except that there’s no meat. The group is divided into two camps: Richard and Sara versus Jane and Neil. Neil and Richard are the leaders, armed with slicked-back hair, expensive suits, and pocket beepers. Sara and Jane stand by their men but lack their competitive instinct. Jane is constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, which she controls through self-help stress-reduction exercises. Sara comes off as just another nice dumb blond, though she isn’t any stupider than the others. (“You’re not stupid,” says Richard. “You just got marketed that way.”)

Then there’s David, who seems to be the boss of the situation, a free-floating entity pacing the back of the conference room and not really communicating with the others. Every now and then he exclaims “Shit!” or some other expletive, and the others stop bickering, grab some papers or a notebook, and look busy.

David seems to want out. He has some ideas, wants to teach grade school, run an arts community. In a subtly ironic moment he describes his utopian vision of such a community: “There will be a parking lot, and next to that there will be a house with offices for the director and director of marketing. . . . We’ll print a brochure.” But David can’t get out. No one can. Fundamentally, they’re all trapped by their own mental limitations.

Tiny Dimes is wickedly funny, thanks in no small part to Dexter Bullard’s skillful directing and pin stripe-perfect performances by Will Casey, Elaine Rivkin, Kirsten Sahs, Brian Shaw, and Jeff Still. This tight ensemble keeps the action exciting, even when Mattei’s script seems to run circles around itself. Robert G. Smith’s set design is simple and effective, with a subtle collage of rusted machinery and pipes floating above the conference room. Bullard’s staging does wonders with only four office chairs and a conference table.

But what makes Tiny Dimes really shine is that the Famous Door ensemble makes no apologies for the unflattering portrayal. None of this “Well some of my friends are yuppies and they’re OK” stuff. A satire can’t be forgiving or polite. And thankfully, Tiny Dimes isn’t polite. It’s cruel, sweet revenge.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brad Miller.