Office politics 

Below the Belt has a setting that could be called wonderfully apocalyptic: a mysterious factory compound in a desert country, through which runs a colorfully polluted river. Despite its bizarre backdrop, Below the Belt staged with gusto at the Alliance Theatre's Hertz Stage, offers a hilarious canny satire of white-collar office politics.

Playwright Richard Dresser reveals the backbiting and power plays of the facility's three-man "checking" office, which consists of a scheming boss (Kyle Colerider-Krugh), an easily offended senior checker (Larry Larson) and an idealistic new guy (Quint Von Canon). We never learn what the company makes, or even its name, but as the checkers face the Mother of all Deadlines, each desperately seeks opportunities for advancement while defending their smallest pieces of turf.

Pounding his VOID stamp with near-orgiastic gusto, Colerider-Krugh combines petty tyranny with hypersensitivity to his subordinates' feelings. Colerider-Krugh's resume includes an appearance on "Seinfeld," and judging from his work here, he could have played a full season's worth of the touchy, unreasonable weirdos who regularly bedeviled Jerry & Co. Larson makes a suitably overwrought office bully, and Von Canon an earnest straight man, but Colerider-Krugh is Below the Belt's employee of the month, his body language so awkward it has a kind of negative grace.

Dresser has both a handle on the Catch-22s of corporate culture and a mastery of quirky dialogue, in which the actors don't speak so much as spit: Someone who says they're "nonplussed" gets told, "You better get plussed!" Below the Belt's only let-down is that it lacks a socko ending, instead concluding with a mildly amusing reversal. Still, if your career has you disgruntled, laughing through Below the Belt will leave you feeling perfectly gruntled.

Below the Belt plays through Oct. 14 at the Alliance Theatre's Hertz Stage, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. at 8 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sun. $21-27. 404-733-5000.


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