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Assistance

ASSISTANCE Virginia Kull
Image credit: Joan Marcus
ASSISTANCE Virginia Kull

If you're one of the 33 percent of Americans (according to a recent survey) who's unhappy in their current job, you'll feel much better after seeing the haggard, headset-wearing, broken-down, beaten-up drones in Leslye Headland's sharp, punchy comedy Assistance at Off Broadway's Playwrights Horizons (through March 11). Nondescript Nick (Michael Esper) and newly arrived Nora (Virginia Kull, who does a beautiful nervous breakdown) are among the unfortunate souls toiling morning, noon, and night for Daniel Weisinger, an unseen, larger-than-life figure who...well, we're never told what he does for a living, except phone periodically to destroy his employees' self esteem and correct their grammar. He does, however, bear a striking resemblance to movie-studio chief Harvey Weinstein, for whom Headland once worked. (Assistance is no hatchet job, though, and one imagines the two are on good terms. At this year's Sundance Film Festival, the Weinstein Company snapped up Bachelorette, the Kirsten Dunst-starring film adaptation of Headland's terrific 2010 stage comedy.)

Headland has an enviable gift for making hollow, slightly despicable characters oddly appealing. (Seriously, if you thought those Bridesmaids were raunchy, wait until you meet the hard-drinking, coke-snorting, pill-popping, dress-ripping Bachelorettes.) No one in Weisinger's office, from the hapless Heather (Sue Jean Kim) to the masochistic Justin (Bobby Steggert) — is the kind of person you'd want to do a line with. I could have done almost entirely without the ''ego-testicle'' Vince (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) — or at least skipped his profane Mamet-esque monologue, which doesn't jell at all with the rest of Headland's snappy, stylish script. You may, however, wish you could go clubbing with Jenny (Amy Rosoff), a seemingly perfectly put-together Brit with a brazen ambition and a hidden talent for tap-dancing.

But sniping and backstabbing can only go on for so long — an hour and a half, to be precise. In fact, that's the actual time limit placed on Headland's sin-inspired Seven Deadly Plays. She's penned six of them, all of which have been performed in Los Angeles. Curiously, New York City has produced only gluttony (Bachelorette), greed (Assistance), and lust (Cinephilia, the first in the series). Perhaps that's appropriate. But next, I think we deserve a dose of Headland's sloth (Surfer Girl). B+

(Tickets: TicketCentral.com or 212-279-4200)

Originally posted Feb 28, 2012