Gremlin Theatre's "Ideation" starts like just another day at the office, complete with endless cups of coffee, an annoyingly lazy intern and the co-worker looking to get out early for his daughter's game. Add in the pesky problem of disposing of a million or more dead bodies, and this play's ordinary day suddenly becomes something quite extraordinary.
Over the course of 90 minutes, playwright Aaron Loeb ("Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party") takes a seemingly straightforward strategy session by a group of management consultants and turns it on its head. The task force is under a deadline to come up with early concepts for containment of a global virus.
As they begin to work out the details, however, their business-speak quickly skews into a different realm. Neutral terms such as "containment," "liquidation" and "disposal" bleed into ominous questions like "What are we going to do with all the bodies?" and "How big is this thing?"
Hannah, the driven executive who prides herself on her ability to "go with the program," suddenly finds herself speculating that she may be helping plan wholesale murder. Indian-born Sandeep wonders if the plan is really aimed at preventing the spread of a virus or if it's a concealed means of carrying out a global genocide against perceived undesirables. Conspiracy theories multiply as the team tries to apply business-school principles to a potential moral quagmire.
Loeb's script occasionally lapses into self-indulgence as one scenario after another is lobbed into the air, but director Brian Balcom does an excellent job of juggling disparate plotlines and keeping the action on track. Interestingly, the most comic and compelling scene in this very talky piece is one that unfolds in complete silence, as the team frantically tears apart the conference room in search of listening devices.
Peter Christian Hansen ably embodies a certain type of corporate highflier: smoothly glib, quick with a joke and just as quick to assert his dominance. Brian P. Joyce offers up an equally spot-on performance as Ted, the genial, no-nonsense workhorse who desperately wants to focus on the task at hand.
Katherine Kupiecki and Nikhil Pandey provide strong characterizations, although their secret office romance fails to convince. Ben Shaw rounds out the cast with his cleverly ambiguous portrayal of the slacker intern who may know more than he reveals.
Gremlin gives this darkly comic piece a sharply drawn production that demonstrates all too clearly how quickly paranoia can be conjured out of rapidly shifting perspectives and how easily a whiteboard and an algebraic formula can paper over a moral abyss.
Lisa Brock is a Twin Cities theater critic.
Who: By Aaron Loeb. Directed by Brian Balcom.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat. and Mon.; 3 p.m. Sun. Ends July 29.
Where: Gremlin Theatre, 550 Vandalia St., St. Paul.
Tickets: $25-$28. 1-888-718-4253, gremlintheatre.org/ideation.