'99 Layoffs': Seattle author's play finds the laughs in pink slips
An interview with Seattle playwright Vincent Delaney, whose "99 Layoffs" is being staged at ACT Theatre through Aug. 25, 2012.
Seattle Times theater critic
'99 Layoffs'By Vincent Delaney. Through Aug. 25 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle; $15-$25 (206-292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).
Seattle playwright Vincent Delaney has written topical plays about war ("Kuwait"), the down-and-dirty business of politics ("The War Party"), the burst of the real-estate bubble ("Foreclosure").
So it seems right up his alley to turn out a new script about the terrors of unemployment.
The title of his "99 Layoffs," which premieres this week at ACT Theatre, may suggest there's a massive downer in store.
But Delaney points out that "99 Layoffs," a two-
actor work that chronicles a couple going through job hell, is a comedy. A "sweet" comedy.
"Some things are so sad they probably need to be laughed at," suggests the lanky, congenial author, a local native and graduate of Kenmore's Inglemoor High School.
"This play is about the insecurity of staying alive today. But it's a lot gentler than my usual writing."
A "restless" dramatist who likes to "Ping-Pong between different styles and genres," Delaney says the impetus for this one-acter wasn't the countless recent horror stories of job loss reported over several years of global economic recession.
Delaney's inspirations were two performers he was eager to create roles for: Aimee Bruneau and K. Brian Neel.
"They're both great Seattle actors, real chameleons who can do anything. Their main characters in the play are called Orson and Louella. But they also play multiple other parts — not throwaways, like in sketch comedy, but real characters" — bosses, customers, co-workers.
Coproduced and commissioned by Radial Theater Project as part of ACT's prolific Central Heating Lab program, David Gassner's staging also includes documentary film snippets of man-on-the-street interviews.
"I was skeptical," says Delaney. "I don't think film always works well as part of a stage play. But David sent out a videographer to ask people about their worst interview, worst job, their experiences being laid off, and we got some great material."
Orson and Louella, he explains, are hopeful wannabe artists — "overeducated, insecure, in their mid-30s — kind of lovable losers. The play is about optimism, but also being stuck in this box, and how do you break out? It ends with a mini-revolution. A sweet one."
As for the title, Delaney swears he dreamed that up last year months before the Occupy Wall Street protests began, and the phrase "the 99 percent" (as in, everyone but the wealthiest 1 percent of the populace) became a rallying cry.
Delaney is a seasoned playwright with more than a dozen full-length scripts (and a dozen more short ones) to his credit.
The recipient of a McKnight Fellowship and other prizes, he has had plays mounted by theaters in Seattle, Philadelphia, Louisville and Minneapolis (where he lived during a four-year fellowship).
Currently, he receives a small stipend from Seattle Repertory Theatre, where he's won a coveted spot in the Rep's new in-resident writers' program. And "Foreclosure," his latest work, has been optioned for a possible New York run. (New Century Theatre Company will give it a workshop staging in Seattle this fall.)
But with a wife and three young children to provide for, Delaney's had an assortment of day jobs himself. Currently he's happily spending his mornings teaching P.E. at Fremont's B.F. Day Elementary School.
"It's a lot more exhausting teaching college courses, which I've also done. I love kids. And now I have my afternoons free for my writing," Delaney says, "and for being a good dad."
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org