Common Wealth Endeavors
@ Common Ground Theatre
4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham
Through March 7

Fourth time’s the charm for Common Wealth Endeavors. Their fast, fun production of two plays, New Zealand playwright Jess Sayer’s Elevator and Contractions by Mike Bartlett (Manbites Dog Theater produced another of his plays, Cock, in 2013) represents a major step forward in the sophistication of Common Wealth’s direction and performances.

The two one-acts read like really good episodes of The Twilight Zonethe ones you’d somehow always missed up to now. Contractions takes contemporary corporate culture one absurd step beyond, and then another, as Laurel Ullman’s smirky, sympathetic and ultimately tragic salesperson, Emma, is called in by J Evarts’ cool, increasingly intrusive and nameless human resources manager.

The terms of Emma’s contract are clear: No romantic relationships are allowed between co-workers without permission. And in an age of increasing Internet surveillance, the corporation is very, very focused on enforcing that ruleand closely arbitrating its exceptions.

Crisp performances by two fine actors under Gregor McElvogue’s taut direction made this work a creepy speculation on the future of corporate relationships.

In Elevator, the private lives of three women thoroughly unspool when an elevator breaks down with them inside. Sayer’s characters, played with élan by Susannah Hough, Mary Guthrie and Amanda Hahn, show their cards one at a time, in a work where the first and second twists aren’t the last ones. Deft direction made getting stuck on an elevator a suspenseful joy ridefor the audience, at least. Strongly recommended.