Here’s a joke for you: Finals are in three weeks. Graduation follows. Then the degree-bearing are thrust into the job market.
What? You’re not laughing?
Well, Aaron Christopher finds a great deal of humor in that joke. Enough to fill a play. But that play struggles to get a larger point across.
As the founder of one-year-old Urban Samurai Productions and playwright of their production “Livelihood,” Christopher tries to poke fun, challenge and give a human touch to corporate America. While it’s funny, “Livelihood” is less of a play and more of a two-man comedy sketch with a mental breakdown as the punch line.
The show bills itself as follows: “College graduate Jason attempts to secure a job he knows he’ll hate for a company he completely despises, all in the name of paying for his cable.” Quite pertinent to the upcoming commencement, no?
Not so much. Not once in the hourlong play does either of the characters mention recent college graduation. Jason, played by Nate Hessburg, is just a hopeless unemployed guy looking for a corporate job.
“Livelihood” was inspired by an interview Christopher had a year ago. He and the interviewer were both “lying through their teeth.” With his writing, Christopher hopes to offend audience members, but he ends up evoking sheer frustration as the hot-and-cold interviewer, Mike, teases Jason throughout the interview.
Mike, played by Ian Swanson, asks questions about his use of prostitutes and his sister’s happiness, shreds his résumé, forces implausible role play and flips out quite regularly. And if it seems like the pair’s handshake lasts for minutes, you’re right.
“I said the pleasure is all mine, so you can’t have it,” Mike says in retort to Jason’s pleasantries.
Swanson plays the imbalanced Mike with socially impaired flair. He seamlessly flips from desperate to loving to patronizing to accusing within minutes.
But Hessburg’s portrayal of straight-man Jason isn’t so convincing. No one of Jason’s caliber would sit in the interview for as long as he did. Not until too late in the production does he show his plain greed for money. By the time he does, he just seemed pathetically desperate instead of legitimately struggling to make a buck.
Mike and Jason have a few intense moments that could have been played out longer and more often. It was in their awkward silences that they connected most to the reality of tense job interviews. The few of these moments that they had were funny, poignant and far more favorable over their countless shouting matches.
The interview goes from hired to not hired to fired then hired all over again so many times that by the end of the play, it’s hard to tell if the actors are crying wolf or being earnest. Then again, that’s usually how bad job interviews end – with ambiguity and frustration.