Post Office Delivers

12/14/2011 8:00 AM |

Post Office
Written by David Jenkins
Directed by Josie Whittlesey

"Everybody's too dressed up," a woman in the crowd murmurs. The seats of the New Ohio Theater fill up with the painfully stylish and the exceedingly well-to-do. Post Office, a new play about working life written by David Jenkins' (through December 17), put on with the help team of NYU MFAs, is about to begin. So would this be class minstrelsy? Does one need to be a mailman to understand what it's like or to have something valid and powerful to say about it? Not necessarily, but contact with the object of representation has immeasurable value. Thirteen years ago, Jenkins was "a proud employee of the USPS," and it shows. The play turns out to be brilliantly scripted. It's about ambition, or lack thereof, about what's a job, and what's a calling, and it seriously transcends the somewhat exclusive world of the letter carrying business.

Jenkins does very much with incredibly little—three very talented actors, one set, two diegetic spaces and not an extraneous line or scene to be found. James, played by David Gells, a 19-year-old from a small Midwestern commuter town, joins the ranks of mailmen at the local post office after high school because he seeks a life forever free of any debt. Denny, played by Eric Hoffmann (who would make a perfect Falstaff), is a veteran carrier in his mid-sixties with no managerial ambitions who must temporarily cede his route to James because of a clumsy injury. As they chat and spend time together sorting, Denny becomes a kind of mentor for James, even though Denny initially resents the teen: "For some of us this is our life and we don't like to see it as a consolation prize, or something to do between bong hits." Along James' new route he meets Victoria, a housewife in her mid-forties, played by Anney Giobbe. A problematic, professionally questionable romance ensues.

Josie Whittlesey's compelling direction is particularly notable because there're virtually no set or costume changes, and through the use of lighting, both professional and domestic environments are able to exist on stage simultaneously. James, the only one who goes back and forth between the two can occupy both spaces at once. He might ask a question of Victoria, but Denny is just as likely to answer. It's unusual, non-naturalistic, but all the better for it. The performance is set in any-town-whatever, or rather, Little Neck, Illinois according to the script, not in the 50s. The only thing that grounds the work in a specific time is the price of a postage stamp. Otherwise it avoids all things topical and lacks what seems like the obligatory nod in contemporary drama to Twitter or Google. This doesn't mean it lacks reality. Timeless themes like the devaluation of labor, the withering away of all that is tactile, carry the work. If the mail never stops, Post Office never fails.

(Photo: Adam Koplan)