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The Dishwashers

Morris Panych's wryly observed workplace comedy gets a first-rate production.

John Shuman, Jay Stratton, and Tim Donoghue
in The Dishwashers
(© Rick Teller)
Morris Panych's The Dishwashers, currently at 59E59 Theatre as part of the Americas Off Broadway festival, is an existential workplace comedy that is both wryly observed and darkly funny. Better still, the first-rate production, directed by Byam Stevens, sets the proper tone for the play's poker-faced absurdities.

Set entirely in the bleak basement of a high-end restaurant, with boxes of dishwashing detergent piled high on all sides, the play opens as new hire Emmett (Jay Stratton) learns the routine from Dressler (Tom Donoghue), a long-time employee who takes pride in his monotonous work to an absurd degree.

Emmett knows a thankless, dead-end job when he sees one; after an ego-crushing failure in the world of finance, he just wants to lose himself in the anonymity of the job. But Dressler waxes lyrical about the discipline needed for dishwashing. To hear him tell it, the dishwashing crew, completed by a cancer-ridden senior citizen named Moss (John Shuman), hold the most important jobs in the restaurant.

The sometimes twisted humor of the play, which unfolds over two acts in a series of short scenes, comes primarily from the lively philosophical back and forth between the two men as they go about the seemingly endless drudgery. The shabby working conditions in this allegorical hell on Earth soon rattle Emmett, who wants to appeal for a new towel dispenser in the restroom, but Dressler has little patience for such ambition since it takes energy away from the honest work of scrubbing plates and silverware. He doesn't hope for advancement or even acknowledgement from their employers upstairs. Indeed, he not only accepts his lowly place on the food chain, he fully embraces it.

A work like this relies heavily on its actors, and Donoghue and Stratton complement each other very well, the former reading believably as working class while the latter convinces as white collar.