Every once in a while you find a production that gets everything right. A one-man show set in a vacant office might not sound intriguing, until you witness the complexities woven throughout the entire story of a 38 year-old playwright’s struggle with his tumultuous past. This, is that kind of play.
Even the title “This Is My Office,” evolves into a deeper more resonating meaning, as if to say: “This My Station. My position in life, regardless of what I’ve hoped for: this is it.” Playwright and performer Andy Bragen embraces this stoic grief with such fervor and reluctant anxiety, the air thickens with this cheerfully somber understanding of the present.
That isn’t to say that Bragen’s one-man show trudges through every step of the melancholy. In fact, he begins his show with a short conversational introduction with at-first meek and endearing physicality. The black sports jacket over a pale blue button-up and skinny stone-washed jeans likens Bragen to a Liberal Arts college professor more than anything else. And like a professor, he confides whole-heartedly in his unfamiliarity with the vacuous concrete walls of the once cubicle-lined office surrounding him.
Then Bragen turns on the projector, and a simple blueprint reveals a cavernous isolating space, which Bragen demonstrates his knowledge of with absolute clarity. It becomes clear that the time spent here requisitely gives way exploration, but not just physical.
This play thrives in memories. In fact, the photo Bragen discovers one day is riddled with meaning. As much as Bragen fights against it, that photo releases a mountain of repressed shame, anxiety and regret.
From that, he discovers that his father, Harold Bragen, worked in the very same office. Harold, who died alone, poor, and broken. It is this fate that preoccupies Bragen’s mind, as Writer’s Block, a failing relationship and failing health haunt him. Even as Bragen quips, jokes and rambles on about potential play ideas - even a screenplay which relocates from Tajikistan to Mauritania to Turkey to Berlin during rewrites - his stream of consciousness never fails to drift back to the sins of his father.
As Bragen finds himself isolated once again on Christmas Eve, he wonders:
“Jesus, have all of my relationships ended before the holidays? …Have I spent every December alone?”
The play doesn’t pull back there. Bragen decides to confront the worst of his repressed past, and spends Christmas Eve in the very conference room where Harold was fired. As Bragen relives this moment with painfully accuracy, he allows for a moment of clear and raw reflection:
“He would live another two and a half decades, but I keep coming back to this moment. Here a path started, a pattern that stayed with him for the rest of his life.”
And it’s true, a bevy of misfortunes follow his father until his death. Unlike many playwrights, Bragen doesn’t shrink away from the agonizing details. Instead, he visits them with addiction during his journey, confronting them until they’re too much to bear.
The beauty of this piece is that it knows when to grieve, and when to breathe. The set design and directing contribute to this immensely. Bragen moves naturally as any slightly alcoholic, reluctantly somber writer would. He engages audience members, gets intimately close and whispers private discussions; there are few moments when we know that this is a performance.
Even more brilliant is the use of multimedia. Since audience members are given headphones during the show, Bragen is free to climb up on top of 6-foot file cabinets, have a sip of scotch, and melt away from the audience during a gut-wrenching phone call. Regardless of how hard he tries, we hear everything. There are no moments of privacy in “This is My Office,” just naked, unflinching truth. And the truth hurts.
By Paul Notice.
Originally published December, 3rd, 2013 at StageBuddy.