Laura Salvas takes on cubicle culture and corporate soullnessness at Fraser Studios in Toronto
Laurie O’Brien (Laura Salvas) graduates York University with a Bachelor of Arts and enters the only job she is qualified for—data entry at “Beige Industries Inc”—in the new comedic look at cubicle culture, How a Cup of Coffee Got Me Fired playing at Fraser Studios. Laurie is eager to make a career for herself, though what she likes best about her workplace is the state-of-the-art coffee machine. The office environment soon turns toxic, and while Laurie blames the other members of her team, she is pretty poisonous herself.
At Laurie’s first annual review, she is shocked when her boss, Mr. Krenshaw, tells her that she is too productive. She’s making everyone look bad, and Krenshaw, who likes to sleep at his desk, wants her to shadow the others to learn some tips on slowing down. Thus we meet Dafny, a single mother who is interested in her children, wine, and dating; Kamal, a Brit and amateur songwriter still tied to his mother’s apron strings; and Ann-Marie, a germophobe who obsessively inventories not only the office supplies but every restaurant in Toronto. The other person we meet during the course of the show is Samantha from HR, who works on a different floor. She’s a valley girl who greets Laurie on her first day and then disappears until the ill-fated conclusion.
Salvas has great comic timing and dedicates herself to some very funny physical comedy, including a complete temper tantrum when the coffee maker is removed from the office kitchen. She plays all the characters in the show, adeptly portraying each with distinctive facial quirks, gestures and voice. When playing a scene with multiple characters, she does a little twirl between each persona that seems unnecessary, as it slows down the action and undersells her ability. Her physical control is such that I believe she could switch instantaneously between characters and the audience would never be in doubt as to who was speaking.
The show is framed as a flashback story told while Laurie is at a job interview, as an answer to the question “Why did you leave your last job?” As the narrative of how everything fell apart for her at Beige Industries Inc. progresses, there are multiple scenes where Laurie talks about her dissatisfaction growing up as a middle child. These all mesh together well, but the one time (maybe two) that she breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges that she is in a play was a level too much, in my opinion.
The other issue my companion and I had with the show was that we were unsure as to the setting. Laurie identifies herself as a child of the 80’s: this is her first job out of university, and at one point Ann-Marie mentions Paul Martin as leader of the Liberal party, so it would follow that it was set in the early-to-mid 2000’s. However, Laurie also refers to the TV show Scandal, which began in 2012. When the coffee machine is removed, precipitating Laurie’s descent into instability, it’s because of cutbacks due to the recession, which was 2007-2009. It’s confusing and distracting to have the action situated in conflicting time periods.
Despite these problems, How a Cup of Coffee Got Me Fired is a fun show that’s less fluffy than it seems on the surface. As someone who has had an office job for most of my life, including some dreadful data entry temp positions when I was young, it drew me in with its skewering of menial corporate tasks. Then, when I was beginning to get frustrated with this woman’s champagne problems (and wondering why the hell she wasn’t applying for other jobs), it became clear that Laurie herself was being put forth for judgement by Salvas. There’s commentary about the soullessness of corporate culture, but there’s also commentary about the values one brings when entering a survival office job.
- How a Cup of Coffee Got Me Fired is playing at Fraser Studios (76 Stafford Street) until April 25, 2015
- Showtimes are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm
- Tickets are $10
- Order tickets online
Photo of Laura Salvas by Chris Suppa Photography