It's not unusual for struggling actors to support themselves as temporary office workers, but Lisa Kotin may be the first to turn her secretarial experiences into performance art.
Kotin began this project a few years ago with a one-act, one-woman show called "Temporary Girl." Now the sequel, "The Office Christmas Party," is receiving its world premiere at the Theatre Project on a double bill with the original piece.
Clever as "Temporary Girl" is, it is essentially a thin -- albeit slickly portrayed -- catalog of characters, ranging from the title character to her nasty boss. "The Office Christmas Party," however, gives the evening substance and a sense of completion -- so much so that it is difficult to imagine one act without the other. Kotin and her director, former Baltimorean Phil Setren, should probably just drop the pretense of a double bill and re-name the evening with a single title.
Like Eric Bogosian, Anna Deavere Smith and Danny Hoch (the hot young performer who opened the Theatre Project season), Chicago-based Kotin has the chameleon-like ability to transform herself into entirely different people. Her first character -- an aspiring actress/office temp named Jeannette -- is presumably most like herself.
Mixing film clips, direct audience address, monologues and mime, Kotin's Jeannette moves at an increasingly frantic pace as she gives a crash course in such handy tips as how to duplicate theatrical resumes and head-shots on the office Xerox machine (she literally Xeroxes her head). Next, she becomes a selfish, power-crazed boss. When this back-stabbing woman announces that all she ever wanted was to be "a corporate head," Kotin sinks behind the desk, leaving only her disembodied head visible, propped on the desktop and chattering away.
Other characters include a young secretary forced to diet by her new husband; a gung-ho office manager who once dreamed of being a ballet dancer; and, Kotin's most polished depiction -- an executive secretary who's been with the firm 40 years and is totally flummoxed by computers, FAX machines and voicemail.
This is entertaining material, but after intermission it gains poignance. That's when Jeannette becomes "the lone Jew at the office Christmas party" -- a temporary job she's come to depend on year after year. Kotin exploits the comedy in this situation, but she also takes a deeper look at her characters, as they react to the unexpected news that the firm has been sold and they're out of work.
In addition, the film clips, which occasionally seem extraneous in "Temporary Girl," are more effective in this second work. In one of the funnier clips, the demanding boss discovers she has to face the tougher demands of an unplanned baby daughter (also played by Kotin).
"Temporary Girl" has been performed throughout this country as well as in London and Edinburgh. "The Office Christmas Party" deserves similar exposure. Ideally though, both should be seen together. From an artistic standpoint, that's also the best way to ensure a lasting place for this "temporary girl."
What: 'Temporary Girl' and 'The Office Christmas Party'
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 18