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Colin (Erik Sternberger, left) strikes a typically dejected pose while Fran (Katharine Pilcher) practices “existential yoga” in The :nv:s:ble Play (photo by Andy Batt)

Colin (Erik Sternberger, left) strikes a dejected pose while Fran (Katharine Pilcher) practices “existential yoga” in The :nv:s:ble Play (photo by Andy Batt)

By Richard Ades

It’s ironic that Alex Dremann’s The :nv:s:ble Play is about a group of book editors. The two-act, two-hour work offers interesting food for thought, but it would benefit from a little editing.

While philosophy majors may be amused by its subtle existential humor, most folks would find it far more palatable if a few minutes—60, say—were cut from its running time.

Set in a New York publishing house that specializes in existential literature, The :nv:s:ble Play is about employees who are so shy and retiring that they gradually disappear from sight. At the center of the action is Colin (Erik Sternberger), who is trying to finish editing a romance novel when he discovers that neither his co-workers nor the book’s author (an unusually hammy Courtney Deuser) can see or hear him.

Actually, saying Colin is at the center of the action is misleading. It would be more accurate to say he’s in the center of the inaction, as he spends scene after scene hunched over his desk in a state of dejection while his oblivious co-workers go about their lives.

Since those lives consist mainly of gossiping about who’s romancing whom and which employees are destined to be laid off, Dremann seems to be suggesting that people like Colin are doomed to be the unappreciated backbones of their companies while their shallow but flashier colleagues gain all the glory.

There’s also a romantic element to the story, but its point is a bit murky. Colin may be in love with Fran (Katharine Pilcher), the Yale-educated woman in the next cubicle, but he also may not be, as he’s not even sure he believes in the emotion. So why should we care? Because a fellow invisible worker comes up with a theory—presumably after watching Beauty and the Beast—that one way to break the spell of invisibility is to make another person fall in love with you.

This sets Colin on a quest to get Fran to fall for him, which means he first must get her to notice him. His bumbling efforts result in several frustratingly slow scenes, including one cribbed from the 1989 rom com Say Anything.

One bright spot in all this is that MadLab’s cast, like most recent MadLab casts, is uniformly good. Director Andy Batt pulls generally well-crafted performances out of his actors.

Besides Sternberger and Pilcher, the leading players include Chad Hewitt as the sleazily ambitious Tim, Shana Kramer as the pregnant Carmen and Megan Corbin as their scary supervisor, Nancy. Most lovable of all is Michelle Batt as Ramona, a self-described asexual arborist who, like Colin, has become invisible to her co-workers.

Rounding out the cast are Joe Liles as Lawrence, an IT guy who has become invisible even to Colin and Ramona, and Deuser as Cass, an aging editor who is unseen because her desk is on the far side of the room.

Speaking of the room, Brendan Michna’s set design is a series of cubicles that will remind many office workers of their place of employment. It certainly reminded me of my former office, except that I don’t remember my days there being quite so uneventful.

The :nv:s:ble Play will be presented at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 14 at MadLab Theatre and Gallery, 227 N. Third St. Running time: 2 hours (including intermission). Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors, $8 for members. 614-221-5418 or madlab.net.

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