Home News Woolly Mammoth’s ‘Human Resources’ Sendup Gets Creative

Woolly Mammoth’s ‘Human Resources’ Sendup Gets Creative

Woolly Mammoth’s ‘Human Resources’ Sendup Gets Creative
Woolly Mammoth’s ‘Human Resources’ Sendup Gets Creative

At a time when Zoom readings, streamed productions and radio plays must scratch the itch for performance art, Woolly Mammoth Theatre and the Telephonic Literary Union have rerouted calls for drama to the most ubiquitous of modern tools: your cellphone.

With a hotline number and an access code, the new production “Human Resources” — billed as an “audio anthology” — allows the listener to absorb four original works that reckon with the inherent loneliness of the social distancing age. One can only admire the boundary-pushing ambition of the interactive endeavor, which wields poignant reflection, offbeat humor and satirical self-awareness to offer a respite from the strains of 2020.

Ticket buyers receive access to the production, which launched Oct. 1, for four-day windows that run from Thursday through Sunday each week. (The listener can call any time, which, amid the current boom in sleepless nights, is an appealing feature.) Once you dial in, an automated operator presents four primary options, each of which constitutes one branch of the theatrical phone tree.

The first choice, “Claims of Unhappiness” by Hansol Jung, makes the most of its telephonic trappings. The operator lays out topical sources of melancholy — self-isolation, financial strife, shared grief, corporate greed, systemic racism — and asks the listener to pick his or her affliction. From there, the deconstructions of distress break off in “choose your own adventure” fashion. Some pathways lead to tender meditations on these taxing times; others provide delightfully droll comic relief. Actors Jin Ha and Brian Quijada pop up as themselves, offering words of reassurance — plus a little self-aggrandizing shtick from “Hamilton” and “Devs” alumnus.

If “Claims of Unhappiness” is a sprawling tapestry, the second option, Brittany K. Allen’s “The Waiver,” is a more tightly woven vignette. Here, the listener connects with the “Department of Conscious Rearrangement” to book a getaway for the psyche, of sorts. The story is a bit nebulous, but Mia Katigbak, as your travel liaison, is a hoot, particularly when rattling off the double-take-inducing fine print.

The appropriately titled “Option 3,” from Christopher Chen, hews closest to a traditional radio drama as you eavesdrop on a conversation between two bickering cohorts (David Greenspan and Ikechukwu Ufomadu), whose dealings seem criminal. The narrative is enigmatic enough to repeatedly bring back the listener — who must redial after several disconnections — and forgive an ending that doesn’t quite land.

If you navigate the options in order, the production wraps up with the head-bopping jam “Stay on the Line.” Conceived and performed by Zeniba Now, who remixes the all-too-familiar rhythms of hold Muzak and high-call-volume notifications, the tune makes for a mesmerizing coda to your “Human Resources” experience.

Or not. While “Stay on the Line” is presented as the final piece of the puzzle, you can dial the different options in whatever order you want, as many times as you want. As the coronavirus pandemic imbues our lives with necessary restrictions, it’s refreshing to take in art that grants its audience such agency.

At one point, the “Human Resources” operator utters, “It’s hard to write beautiful things while in the midst of despair.” Yet, for the most part, this production pushes the right buttons.

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