In The Bureau, presented by Sh*t Talkers Anonymous from Chicago at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, the tropical-fruit conglomerate Chiquita has taken over the world and instigated its own banana republic-style governance with a decidedly corporate flair.
As part of the new world order, the company, now called “The Bureau,” has developed a mind control and education program that promotes fun while removing personal freedoms. As the lights come up, a pair of yellow-shirted women stands before us to take us through the training, until their PowerPoint deck goes unexpectedly dark — interrupting the course that they are required to give, with dire penalties for anything that goes wrong.
The two instructors, Maya Farhat and former Cincinnati native Tatum Hunter, decide to wing it without technology and present the required lessons on friendship, about which they reveal they know very little. Farhat’s character is a bit of fawning corporate lackey, while Hunter plays an outsider who’s a tad rebellious beneath her quiet and quirky exterior.
What follows is a series of confessional moments and songs. The dissonance between these elements gives the show a bit of a split personality. For the scene work, the banter is witty but the topics feel fairly clichéd and sentimental. The music and lyrics, however are a different matter. These are jazz-inflected tunes that carry some very arch emotional material.
The script and songs are written by the very talented Hunter, who also has great stage presence, which she exhibits in an awkward but endearing manner. Farhat has the stronger voice, both in dialogue and song, but each actor brings some really smart shadings to lines that would otherwise land a little flat.
Daniel Zimmer has written some top-notch arrangements for the show’s music and plays them impressively. Director Carolyn Guido Clifford wound the show a little too tight for my taste – and the blocking could have used a greater variation, relying less on the actors pacing downstage left and right.
The punishment exacted by The Bureau for failing to deliver the correct training is a partial lobotomy, termed “rebraining” – a procedure that leaves the individual with half the will and wiles that once made her a strong, self-directed person. At the close, one character is forced to choose to accept the procedure. The show suffers something of the same fate: It elects to be half the work it could have been in order to play a little nicer and fit in. Still, there’s lots of talent on display here, and it’s worth the watch.