Review: Appraisal Depicts the Power Struggle in a Job Performance Review

Tim Marriott’s shorty one-act performs as part of the Brits Off Broadway series.

Tim Marriott and Alex Sunderhaus star in Marriott’s Appraisal, directed by Margarett Perry, at 59E59 Theaters.
(© Carol Rosegg)

Any business or not-for-profit organization, given sufficient growth and time, will be infiltrated the 21st-century equivalent of palace eunuchs — people obsessed with their station, practiced in the dark art of office politics, who are better at the stealthy administration of poison than they are at the administration of business.

In the case of Tim Marriott’s Appraisal, now appearing at 59E59 as part of the Brits Off Broadway series, the poison is thinly concealed within the performance review that upper manager Jo (played by Marriott) is conducting for middle manager Nicky (Alex Sunderhaus). The surfeit of managers and the fact that we never hear what this company even does should be our first indication that the firm has slipped well past the point of decadence.

Their mutual hostility is clear from the get-go, a simmering hatred that Jo barely masks behind a vacant smile. Far more direct, Nicky doesn’t even try to hide her disdain. We can sense her mind dwelling on the tasks she could be accomplishing were she not subjected to this mandatory struggle session.

“That’s why I like to do away with the more formal approach and why I’m replacing the annual appraisal with these ongoing reviews,” Jo informs her, threatening to sacrifice even more of her time on the altar of “transparency and integrity.”  It quickly becomes apparent that he’s also trying to sideline a troublesome adversary by promoting her to the useless, toothless new role of “Head of Outreach.”

Marriott, best known for his role on the ’90s BBC sitcom The Brittas Empire, has clearly suffered through this white-collar kabuki before, as evidenced by his mastery of zero-calorie corporate jargon. “I think we need to be more engaged in the community,” he pontificates, “we need to reach out to the locality, to promote the brand and seek to build bridges, not walls. Reach out… out reach… you see?” Truly, is there anything more pathetic than the sound of American management pablum annunciated in a British accent?

Tim Marriott and Alex Sunderhaus star in Marriott’s Appraisal, directed by Margarett Perry, at 59E59 Theaters.
(© Carol Rosegg)

Unfortunately, authenticity doesn’t quite compensate for a lack of stakes in this one-hour one-act, which aims to skewer the corporate bureaucracy but only leaves it with a light abrasion.

This has nothing to do with the acting. Marriott and Sunderhaus deliver equally matched performances and are excellent at depicting the seesawing shifts of power in the room, leading to gasps, guffaws, and groans. But I got the sense that the script could have gone even further, forcing its players into increasingly desperate chess moves. The final blackout feels like the end of what could be a three-act saga.

Margarett Perry’s production is tautly timed and well-staged on a set that captures the aggressive blandness of office décor — an ergonomic swivel chair makes for a particularly ugly centerpiece. The costumes are equally forgettable in a manner sure to warm the heart of any HR manager (no designers are credited).

You won’t leave your jaw on the floor. The events of Appraisal will feel depressingly familiar and predictable for anyone who has worked in an office. But in its sturdy two-character structure, it will make you think of what it would have been like if Ionesco had worked a gig at Deloitte. In so many ways, our digital age has taken absurdity to dizzying heights even that great dramatist never imagined.

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Closed: June 30, 2024