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A lottery ticket almost never gives much of a chance to win big, but a ticket to the Arkansas Repertory Theatre this month seems like a sure shot to deliver laughs, surprising twists and an action-packed final act.
For its final production of the season, The Rep is staging the world premiere of "Windfall," written by Scooter Pietsch and directed by Jason Alexander, best known for playing George Costanza in "Seinfeld."
A reductive description of the play might be "Office Space" meets "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," with a somewhat darker edge. The gist of it is that four data entry employees, bonded in their dissatisfaction with their jobs and loathing of their boss, become convinced of a surefire way to win a $400 million lottery: They agree to invest all their savings and split the winnings. Soon, though, suspicions begin brewing and shifting alliances pit them against each other as they go to extreme lengths to make sure no one gets away with the money single-handedly.
The setting is a nondescript office interior. Set designer Mike Nichols and his crew have captured the essence of the type of soul-sucking beige prison that many will relate to having worked in, all the way down to the logo. Alexander praised the design as being on par with anything that a New York playhouse could pull off.
Depending on whom you talk with, Glenn Brannon, the owner, is either a wise and practical foil to his employees' spiraling descent into comedic chaos, or a manipulative sociopath who delights in exploiting his employees' weaknesses. Ray Wills, who plays Glenn, explained that his character stays firm in his belief that effort, not scheming, is what ultimately pays off in the end. "They think that money will solve their problems and make them happy," he said of the employees, noting that they are more deeply flawed than they realize.
Scooter Pietsch, who wrote the play, more or less agreed: "Even though the boss is a mean guy, he's right in the end: You get what you can through hard work, and you are the one who creates happiness in your own life."
Alvin Keith, who plays Galvin, one of the employees, wasn't buying it, though: "We still hate [the boss] in the end. He sees that we are beaten down and he preys on that. He continues to beat us down, which drives us to more desperation."
Galvin, described as the "most deserving" of the employees, acts as a sort of catalyst, inspiring the other employees to take on their shared commitment to the dream of winning millions. Hannah, played by Nikki Coble, is the reliable office veteran, and one to whom audience members are more likely to relate. Chris, played by Cyrus Alexander, is the charming slacker who never grew up. Kate, played by Lisa Ann Goldsmith, is the older, alcoholic office manager. Apart from these four is Jacqueline, played by Kayla Nicole Wilkes, a newbie brought in by Glenn to make the other employees fear for their jobs.
Jason Alexander says the play boils down to the question: "What happens when someone cheats you out of a winning lottery ticket? If you were in these people's situation, how far would you go?"
The second act of the play was described as "like an action movie." Pietsch hinted at some of the details: "The paper cutter and document shredder play prominent parts." Jason Alexander teased, "Have you ever laughed at something but said to yourself, 'Oh my God?' That's Act 2."
What could drive these people who have spent their lives in a low-risk, low-reward job to put everything on the line for the ultimate payoff? "We come across the story we want to hear," Coble said. "We've been provided with proof, the undeniable truth that we will win, and we invest completely because we think it's our only way out."
"Windfall" opens Friday, June 10, and plays through Sunday, June 26. Special events include a panel discussion at the Clinton School of Public Service at noon Thursday, June 9; "Pay Your Age Night" on Sunday, June 12; and Sign Interpreter Night Wednesday, June 22. More info is available at therep.org/attend/productions/windfall.