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Steve Carell notwithstanding, the office can be a very deathly place these days, at least in downtown theater. The Obie-winning The Thugs imagined offstage bogeymen killing drones one by one. Now Doppelganger, by Canadian playwright Simon Heath, zeroes in on the neuroses of two grieving nine-to-fivers after a co-worker, Frank, plunges from a high-rise “shatterproof” window. Nerdy George, his underling, and moody Marcia from HR, his lover, keep having visions of Frankis it a ghost, or another Frank from a parallel universe? Did George (Jermaine Chambers) and Marcia (Heather Carmichael) even know the same Frank, or did he always have the power to stop time and be in two places at once? A slick counselor from corporate tries to therapize away their angst, but when faced with the mindfuck of the space-time continuum, no mere headshrinking will do.
While the play’s portrayal of the psychologist hints at promising satire, Doppelganger opts more for existential meandering than social commentary. Heath supplies lots of heady discourse about quantum physics, REM sleep, and binary numerology, but none of it elucidates the gaping black holes in his plot. (If you’re going to present parallel universes, it would be nice if at least one of them made sense.) Instead of a story of credible human beings, the writing degenerates—even in the course of its short hour—into a platform for the playwright’s Einsteinian gobbledygook.
In residence at the 3LD Art and Technology Center, the Feed the Herd company has given the script an intriguing yet disappointing multimedia treatment. Projecting up to 15 separate images simultaneously—of skyscrapers, therapeutic buzzwords, and some live shots of the characters themselves—Jeff Gray’s videography impresses as technically adept, but remains literally a backdrop, contributing nothing consequential to the play’s action. Maybe if the less innovative set and lighting design more clearly delineated the play’s tricky shifts in time and place, we could assimilate the
subliminal effects intended by these free- associative videos. Otherwise, director Emanuel Bocchieri would have better invested his budget in hiring more accomplished three-dimensional actors, who could put over Heath’s hyper-sci-fi exposition with crisper diction. A “doppelganger,” the play tells us, is not just a double, but a “shadow walker.” Unfortunately, here it’s the audience that’s most in the dark.