Alphabetical Order opened this week in Theatre Row's Clurman Theater. This is a play that will take you back to a time when information was not at everyone's fingertips on the Internet. It was kind of nice to be transported back to 1974 and see how the world lived before computers became a mainstay in offices. A question to be answered: Was that a better way to work?
The show opens to a set of incredible disarray. The entire play takes place in the library of a newspaper where file cabinet after file cabinet abound with numerous drawers opened and papers spilling out of them. Any flat surface in the room has some sort of papers tossed on it not neatly placed, but literally tossed. Even the two long shelves which align the upper sides of the stage have storage boxes with papers hanging out of them. It was a sight to behold and cleverly the director allows the audience a few moments to take it all in before the heroine, Lesley, arrives for her first day of work as the Assistant Librarian. Her reactions to the mess she finds are comical as well as indicators of the action that will eventually occur.
Leslie gets to meet fellow co-workers as they enter the Library one by one. John, the good looking but overly analytic office flirt arrives first and attempts to sweep her off her feet. He's currently involved with Lucy, the head Librarian, who seems to have a method all her own of finding things in the piles of paper. Lucy is too good a sort to believe at times. She isn't organized but she can find things for people and appears to love doing it all. She also takes in people (men) when they are in a time of need. She seems to have a need to be needed.
Other workers come and go in search of information and clipped articles that are filed in the room. The one exception is Geoffrey who handles the mail. Geoffrey doesn't do much to further the plot, but then again, how often does internal mail ever move things along? Arnold comes in and out often unsure of what he wants. He has personal problems that he can't acknowledge out loud so how can he express what information he is looking for? Nora is the perfect office worker who likes to spread news but also wants to hear it too. And Wally, well, he's that guy who just feels he has to liven everyone's day up whether they need it or want it.
The characters have been struggling in this chaotic environment for some time now. Geoffrey is about 2 years from retirement. They have made the best of it. But Lucy realized something has to be done and so Leslie was hired to do "great things."
And she does great things. When intermission ends and the curtain rises for Act II, the set is completely cleaned up and put in order. Sign in and Sign out sheets are in evidence as well as perfectly cleaned off surfaces. It is an amazing transformation that occurs during that 15 minutes; it must be very busy onstage while that curtain is down. As the action resumes, Leslie is showing this group the way to order and neatness. Even John, who has now left Lucy and is in a relationship with Leslie emerges for the second act with straight combed hair that is in contrast to his previous natural and curly hair of act one. As madness and disorder begin again in the second act, his hair again looses that straight look and goes more natural.
For a play of a little under two hours, there is a lot of action and relationships that come and go. Author Michael Frayn did a good job of moving the timeline along so that it all becomes believable. One of the strengths of this play is in its characters. It is a true ensemble piece but at times Lucy, well played by Angela Reed, steals the scene. Audrey Lynn Weston was a delight as OCD bound Leslie. Her facial reactions to the remarks being made by the other players were very comical at times.
Although this play was written back in the 70's and it uses work methods that are outdated by today's standards, it shows that there are a lot of things about the workplace that were true then as they are true now. There is always the new person that comes in with a new way of doing things that makes the old methods seem like they were a waste of time. Every office has its range of personalities. None of this has changed.
But it was prophetic to today's workplace when Frayn included a newspaper take-over in the script. The chaos that surrounds that action magnifies how people deal with change. Job security is brought into question and the emotions that accompany it are also explored.
At first glance, Alphabetical Order seems like a basic comedy with a past we aren't very familiar with anymore. However, in the current economy, it may hit closer to home for many people than the author ever intended. Go have a laugh while you see this play but don't be surprised if you find yourself still thinking about a few days later.
For tickets and information about this play, visit the Theatre Row website.