Accountant Stan (Ben Gorman, center) meets his new colleagues (Mark Schuliger and Amy Anderson) in State of Control (Red Generation Photography)
Bill Cook has become known for plays that unfold like dreams rather than real life. With his latest, State of Control, he’s graduated from dreams to nightmares. At its center is Stan (Ben Gorman), an accountant who’s just been hired as the controller for an investment firm. The job title carries a whiff of irony because from the moment he enters the office, his life is out of control. The boss (Mark Schuliger) keeps him off-balance with compliments and cocktails and keeps pushing him to sign documents he hasn’t had time to read. Co-worker Melissa (Amy Anderson) plies him with come-ons that even Helen Keller couldn’t miss, all the while ignoring Stan’s protestations that he’s married. Things get even more uncomfortable when Stan and Melissa are sent on a “rainmaking” trip to Las Vegas and she encourages him to risk thousands on a shaky bet. Before the trip is over, Stan is not only in debt but implicated in crimes ranging from embezzlement to murder. Being innocent, Stan believes he’ll be vindicated, but he begins to suspect otherwise when he undergoes a trial that’s as off-kilter as everything else that’s happened to him. Local playwright Cook delved into middle-class fears in his last two works (2012’s Love in an Age of Clamor and 2013’s The Promised Land), but State of Control amps up the paranoia to a whole new level. And while the earlier plays dabbled in dreamlike surrealism, Cook’s latest dives into it headfirst. The performances, under the direction of Matt Hermes, contribute to the atmosphere while giving the audience ample opportunities to laugh. Seldom have we seen such a collection of eccentric tics and accents in one production. The supporting actors—all of whom play multiple roles—would come off as self-indulgently hammy if their portrayals didn’t fit into a consistent vision of unreality. After playing the overbearing boss, Schuliger branches out as an English barrister (in a U.S. courtroom?!) and a bullying prison guard. When she isn’t playing the lascivious Melissa, Anderson is seen as Stan’s squeaky-voiced wife. Most outrageous of all is Randy Benge, especially when he plays a judge who nearly faints from ecstasy when Latin is spoken in his courtroom. In contrast, final cast member Charles Farrow is relatively low-key in such guises as a put-upon waiter and a police detective who talks out of the side of his mouth. But the only actor who really keeps a tight lid on the excesses is Gorman. That’s fitting, since we can’t relate to Stan’s growing fears unless we experience the action through his down-to-earth eyes. Peter Pauze’s scenic design and Liz Kurtzman’s props further add to the tale’s odd aura with nifty touches such as an 8-foot-high bunk bed and an oversized martini glass. State of Control sets out to say important things about America’s system of justice, and you may have mixed feelings about whether it says them as effectively as it could. But you can’t fault the play’s purity of spirit, which remains solidly—and comically—nightmarish throughout. A&B Theatricals will present State of Control at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Ave. Tickets are $25 in advance ( or “pay what you want” at the door. 614-441-2929 or