THEATER | Four Humors’ “The Extraordinary Terms of Ordinary Life” at the Loring Theater: Underwriters from the underworld

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A little Hudsucker Proxy, a little Glengarry Glen Ross, a little Pale King, and a little Twilight Zone, Four Humors Theater’s new production The Extraordinary Terms of Ordinary Life is a stylish look at the trials and tribulations of life insurance salesmen circa 1929: a best-of-times that was about to become the worst of times. Though often funny and never less than energetic, the play is weighed down by an overly elaborate plot that drags as the show stretches into its second half.

John Davidson (Andy Rocco Kraft, so tight you could bounce a quarter off him) is a salesman who thinks he “might be the man” to take advantage of an employment opportunity with a rapidly growing life insurance company. Hiring manager Mr. Murrell (Alisa Mattson, cast against type as a caustic blowhard rather than a sweet naif) agrees, and much of the first half of Extraordinary Terms is occupied with John’s training at the hands of top salesman Frank (Ryan Nelson). Much of this is fleet and amusing, especially attempts to sell even more insurance to a frazzled and already overinsured customer played by Garrett Volmer with such versimilitude you think he’s going to have a stroke right there onstage.

By the second act, it’s become clear that there are forces in play larger than the national economy; that’s a big leap for a script that’s already thick with plots and subplots, including John’s office romance with his beau Mary, a secret songstress (a very charming Rachel Petrie, hitting just the right notes both literally and figuratively). The play sort of crash-lands into a conclusion, with all the loose strings being hurriedly tied up.

Though this isn’t Four Humors at their best, it’s a promising directorial debut for Ryan Lear, who wrote the script with Matt Spring. There are plenty of treats to help you along the script’s halting way—including the infallible Jon Mac Cole in a supporting role, a small ensemble playing live music contemporary to the period, and the Loring Theater itself, an absolutely superb venue for a show of this scale.

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