Tim Marriott and Alex Sunderhaus. Photo by Carol Rosegg

APPRAISAL

Tim Marriott's dark workplace comedy at 59E59, NYC

Written by:
Nella Vera
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A concise and captivating two-hander about workplace dynamics from Tim Marriott, “Appraisal” played at the Brits Off-Broadway Festival at 59E59, concluding its run this past weekend on June 20, 2024.

Mr. Marriott, a compelling performer best known for his seven seasons on the BBC comedy, “The Brittas Empire,” also acted in the play, which co-starred a formidable Alex Sunderhaus. On the surface, “Appraisal” might seem like a standard “corporate employee takes on overbearing boss” story but it is surprisingly layered with complexity.  When the play opens, Jo is surfing the internet for what seems like provocative content. It’s not, but the audience has already laughed nervously and been put on alert. Much of the play follows this pattern –subtle surprises emerge at every turn, challenging what you thought was happening.

Jo, the boss at the unspecified company, has brought in Nicky, a long-time manager, for her yearly review and both are uneasy. Their mutual dislike is apparent.  Jo is mostly all bluster and speaks in corporate babble – his attempts to create a more informal atmosphere are awkward and groan-inducing. Nicky visibly winces when he tries to casually touch her shoulder. He is clearly a little too comfortable getting physically close to his subordinates.

Tim Marriott and Alex Sunderhaus. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Nicky, on the other hand, seems a bit combative from the start. She doesn’t hide her hostility towards her boss (who can blame her, really?) or her opinion that this whole thing is a waste of her time. She is unable to keep herself from correcting him when he misspeaks. She may be in the right, but as anyone who has every worked in a corporate job can tell you, no one likes a know-it-all.

Marriott and Sunderhaus are excellent in these roles. Marriott is smarmy and self-important –he moves about the room as though he is circling in on his prey. Sunderhaus is the perfect foil, a queen of sub-text with her large expressive eyes and measured tones.

As far as the appraisal goes, it quickly deteriorates when Jo tries to move Nicky to a different job – a demotion in her mind. It’s a ploy to get rid of someone he deems a troublesome staff member and replace her with someone else who has caught his eye, perhaps not in a professional way. Accusations start flying, with both sides bringing their best ammunition forth. Nicky, it turns out, has a prior “incident” on her HR record that may harm her reputation if it comes to light, while Jo has a history of lascivious harassment of younger female employees. They are evenly matched: he is condescending, sure of his own authority and position; she is defiant, willing to go toe-to-toe with her pompous and highly inappropriate boss.  

For the audience, it’s easy to take sides against a sexist bully who is using his position for personal gratification.  But Marriott is a deft playwright who muddies the waters just enough to leave the audience with many questions about Nicky as well, including why she has not reported her boss’s behavior before this meeting. Clocking in at a taut one hour, the play’s action happens in real time. Director Margaret Perry elevates the stakes with tight and focused direction. It’s a riveting back and forth of corporate power plays intensified by strong personalities.

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