As I entered room 404 of the Art Academy of Cincinnati Friday night, two women stood by the door to greet me. They handed me a pamphlet and welcomed me to the re-education session that was about to begin. As more people filed in, it became clear that the members of Sh*t Talkers Anonymous, the troupe behind “The Bureau,” would be in character throughout their performance. One of them, Maya (Maya Farhat), was clearly the more experienced bureaucrat. She gave sharp orders, moving deliberately, while Tatum (Tatum Hunter), the smaller and considerably more doe-eyed of the two, was visibly struggling to maintain her authoritative composure.
The show begins with a brief video introduction that explains the history of the New World Order. The story goes that Chiquita Brands International found itself with an unexpected windfall and began acquiring rival companies, then unrelated companies and ultimately, control of every world government. They made a few unpopular decisions (most dastardly of all, finding Beyoncé and sending her to a work camp) and found themselves still in complete control, but also in a public relations crisis. Their solution? Rebranding. Except in this case, “rebranding” means “coming up with a snazzy new name then sending anyone who still questions us to re-education workshops and/or lobotomizing them.”
I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like the single best premise for a comedic musical I’ve ever heard. And yes, it is a musical. The two bureaucrats sing and dance their way through the workshop, and their songs are hilariously clever, reminiscent of Garfunkel & Oates — and not just because Tatum Hunter bears more than a passing resemblance to Kate Micucci.
A few minutes into their presentation, the Powerpoint slideshow stops working, sowing instant panic as the two are forced to use independent thoughts and find their own definition of a human relationship. As they limp their way through the rest of the presentation, they begin to discover a flicker of sincerity in their relationship. The entire premise of “The Bureau” is absurd, and its strongest merits by far are in its raucous wit, but for a few moments, I have to admit that the connection between the two characters and their almost-rebellious camaraderie was sincerely moving. The banality of evil is tragic, after all, and watching people suffer on it, however hilarious the rest of the performance, is heartbreaking.
“The Bureau” is an outstanding piece of musical comedy at this year’s Fringe Festival. It’s an absolute must-see for fans of dystopian comedy.
Zach Moning is the communications manager at ArtsWave. Reach him here with questions or comments about ArtsWave Guide.