We have all been there. We all have that one co-worker we hate to see every day, even though we always have to put on a happy face when we interact with them. That one person that motivates us to rapidly press the “close doors” button on the elevator when we see them rushing toward it. The person we avoid making eye contact with when we see them on the streets. The person who would be at the top of the list if “The Purge” was real. Because, man, if killing was legal, they would be the first one gone. But of course, those are all just whimsically violent daydreams, right?
But what if these violent daydreams were put into effect? The dark comedy “Let’s Kill Jessica” answers that question by exploring the macabre fantasy of killing that one annoying person we know. Currently playing at PianoFight, a bar and independent theater in San Francisco, the play follows three co-workers — Jen (Sarah Coykendall), Jenny (Sonia Sawyer) and Jennifer (Janelle Aguirre) — as they plot to kill their annoyingly perky co-worker, Jessica (Annie Dick). The gory story that follows is a sinister, humorous dive into the unwinding of the psyche.
Written by Claire Rice and directed by Nikki Meñez,“Let’s Kill Jessica” is a gloriously female-driven production that, thankfully, isn’t solely focused on the fact that its leading characters are all female. Opening with a video title sequence reminiscent of a television episode, the play presents as a live version of “The Office,” featuring asshole characters such as those of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Unlike many similar stories that revolve around women in offices that fall into the tired “working woman” trope, the story that unfolds has nothing to do with “being a female in the workspace.” The Jens don’t hate Jessica because they’re pitted against her in the workspace or because she’s prettier or more popular — they hate her because she’s an obnoxious co-worker. Instead of relying on cliches, the play focuses on the individual development of each character and how the murderous plot reveals their inner id.
As is the case with PianoFight’s black-box theater, the venue always plays a role in the show’s storytelling. The production makes good use of its limited set space and gives the show a touch of appreciated campiness that brings another layer into “Let’s Kill Jessica.” There is a hilarious, almost-meta scene where Travis Maider, who plays various male characters, has to step into the role of Jessica’s mom in Jessica’s fever dream, which is simply done through revealing the word “MOM” on his costume. The ominous blood splatters that appear on the office walls after the deadly scheme is enacted is also a great touch that subtly elevates the show.
Yet it is the cast’s performance that really stands out in “Let’s Kill Jessica.” Dick’s saccharine former prom queen Jessica is reminiscent of that one popular girl we all remember from high school, but Dick humanizes her in a way that makes you begrudgingly sympathize with her. The slow descent of Sawyer’s Jenny into serial killer-esque glee is masterfully done, while Aguirre’s hormone-crazed Jennifer nails every comedic beat. And Maider excels as the humorously versatile Every Man. The standout performance is Coykendall as the fiercely lethal leader Jen, whose intense mania subtly seeps into a full blown sociopathic frenzy by the play’s end.
For those who don’t like the stuffiness of plays or the forced laughter of comedy shows, don’t worry — “Let’s Kill Jessica” has the best of both worlds without either of the downsides. Perfectly paired with a few drinks, “Let’s Kill Jessica” is an entertaining show that helps you live out your own murderous fantasies without getting a drop of blood on your clothes.
‘Let’s Kill Jessica’ is playing at PianoFight in San Francisco through Nov. 14.