Work=Pain=Success, a one-man show written by and starring Harry Prichett, begins before the lights go down in the theatre. As the audience thumbs through its programs, a slow but steadily growing collage of voices is heard over the loudspeakers. Then the house darkens. When the lights come up on stage, a male figure is sitting in an electric chair, singing a garbled chorus of "Misty." Then the juice is turned on, and he is electrocuted.
While the rest of the play is generally less dark and more humorous then scene one, the basic theme is the same: work in contemporary society will eventually kill you. The rest of the 90=minute piece is made up of brief scenes regarding men and their work. First there is Stuart Wellman, a New Age TV guru who is trying to sell viewers a huge cassette tape containing his discourses on his philosophy of Work=Pain=Success. Wellman openly admits that his philosophy will never lead to success or happiness. In fact, that is his point; we keep convincing ourselves that success will happen one of these days, but in fact it will not. Other characters include a worker at the Chemco radiation hazard plant, and an actor who is endlessly taping a voice-over for an almost X-rated TV commercial for men's cologne.
Work=Pain=Success is a very appealing play. While the idea of the dangerous and dehumanizing aspects of work is not new, author Prichett has some clever takes on the subject. Some of the scenes are quite inspired. A short piece about a jazz pianist who is trying to make a comeback after losing nine fingers, and a longer piece about a modern-day Peachum-like agent for the homeless are truly hysterical. Unfortunately, not all the scenes were of the same quality.
As a performer, Prichett was quite good. He was consistently appealing, interesting to watch, and was able to get a laugh with even the smallest facial and vocal nuances. He was helped by his director, Anna Ivara, who staged the work crisply, and by his set designer, Roy C. Ballard, his costume designer John A. Robinson, and especially his sound designer Robert Auld.
On the whole Work=Pain=Success was a very enjoyable evening in the theatre. And that might be its main problem. While it was very amusing, it did not probe deeply enough into its subject. A little more digging, and some editing, would have helped turn the whole into something greater than the sum of its quite amusing parts.
Copyright 1997 John Attanas