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Review: Humor and humanity at the heart of anti-corporatist play ‘The Proletariat’

You probably already know this as a Nevada worker, but according to a recent Economic Policy Institute study, workers in right-to-work (RTW) states like ours make an average of 3.2 percent less than those in non-RTW states, and are less likely to have sponsored health insurance or receive pensions. Oh, and your boss doesn’t need a reason to fire you. If this doesn’t piss you off, Ernest Hemmings’ new play, The Proletariat — selling out shows at the Las Vegas Little Theater’s Fischer Black Box — might change your tune.

Hemmings’ searingly amusing anti-corporatist manifesto is designed for anyone who’s ever begrudgingly worn the khaki costume of the corporate schlub; given into the lure of selling your soul to become a “bigger box” in a company’s PowerPoint “org chart”; or swallowed your pride to maintain your Blue Cross policy, if only to ensure it’ll cover your resulting ulcers.

Luckily, the production plays less as a heavy handed “manifesto” as it is does an edgier Office Space-style comedy, directed by Hemmings and featuring three characters in two workplace scenes. Joel Wayman plays smarmy boss John, whose every line, it’s pointed out, comes straight from a Management 101 softcover picked up at Kinko’s. (Wayman’s moustache deserves co-star credit, twitching and quivering as if to signal that despite his “truth will set you free” mantra, the dude is brimming with bullshit.) Harold (Ryan Balint) is the middle-management, nod-happy lackey attempting to appease both sides. And then there’s Susan (Cathy Ostertag), whose efforts to thwart the system take a quick and greedy turn.

TJ Larsen’s set captures the bland, familiar tone of Any Office, USA, with the requisite inspirational calendar and safety messaging, without ever giving away the company, industry or the widget its sales team is aiming to push, the point here being the ubiquity of organizations run by greedy shareholder goals. But it’s humor that drives this show — and humanity that resides at the heart of it.

Hemmings has clearly put in time in the trenches and has crafted an original script to which audiences respond — laughing as John lets fly with corporate dogma about trust and (literally) impossible sales goals, chuckling at the mundane workplace observations woven into dialogue and cheering when the second act takes a cathartic twist. (Anyone familiar with Hemmings’ work shouldn’t be surprised at the news of a twist.) Ironically, despite some heated moments involving laptop projectiles shot into the audience, it was the restraint late in the second act that surprised me the most — and perhaps served the play best.

THE PROLETARIAT Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m., through Jan.19; Fischer Black Box at Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Drive,, $10-$15.