Paulie’s Polymers might be a fantastic plastic bag company, but thanks to government bans and terrible marketing, the Los Angeles branch is in trouble—and just before the holidays, too. And yet, here we are, the members of the San Diego branch (the one branch doing fantastically well), joining our fellow L.A. employees for their yearly holiday party. We know they’re in trouble—but they don’t.
Happy holidays, everyone!
That’s the simple premise behind Katy Foley and Michael Dunn’s wonderfully goofy production, Paulie’s Polymers Office Christmas Party, which ran for just two nights in December 2018. Audience members are given the simple role of great employees, brought to the party with other employee characters who maybe aren’t doing so well. Then the party begins.
It’s a largely sandbox production, with only a few moments of actual plot happening in the midst of extensive interactions between characters and the audience. While such productions can be hit or miss, this show surrounded the audience with so many characters it was nearly impossible not to get caught up in the conversations.
And what a party it is! Spurred on by fantastic characters that are played by actors who are clearly improvising most of their interactions with the audience, Paulie’s Polymers managed to handle two different tasks at once.
First—man, it feels exactly like office parties I’ve been to in real life, and that includes encountering employees who are inappropriate, who enjoy their spirits a little too much, and who are wildly excited to show you things they’ve done that no one should ever be excited about. Ever.
Second—and more importantly—this is a great deal of fun as a show. It isn’t terribly deep, meaningful or weighty. Even the little “plot” that existed (we were asked to look for which employees were worth being “let go”) was largely there to nudge us to interact with all of the characters. That’s great—because it’s the characters themselves that are the point of this experience, and they are completely worth their weight in plastic bags.
Everywhere you turn, the characterizations of these employees shine. On one side is Rachel (played beautifully by Natasha Estrada), the marketing exec who seems to have slept through every sexual harassment seminar. Or you can chat with Steve, Terence Leclere’s deadpan performance of a man woefully brain dead when it comes to slogans. Back in one corner you’ll find Sophie Brabenec’s amazing portrayal of Crystal, an accountant who’s as New Age as her name implies and whose boyfriend may or may not be stuck in an elevator somewhere. But don’t worry, because the stripping Santa Daddy (Michael Dunn giving it his all and then some) will find you momentarily.
Perhaps most enjoyable of all, for me, was Natasha Lloyd’s HR head, Deborah. Watching her go from strait-laced and prim to viciously petty as she found more and more ways to drink was one of the most voyeuristically enjoyable experiences of my holiday season.
Wrangled together in short fashion by Katy Foley (who also gave a sharp turn as Katy Kensington, president of the company), Paulie’s Polymers gave me exactly what I hoped it would—a joyous and goofy party filled with joyously goofy characters. I’d be more than happy to have another chance to see them again, especially in a scenario that had a little more shape and form. Then again, part of the charm (and terror) of any holiday party is that elusive, transitory nature—something this experience captured perfectly.