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Everything about “The Gronholm Method“ at the Theater of Nations is slick and well-packaged. That goes for Jordi Galceran's play about one modern company's extreme method of employee interviews. It goes for Javor Gardev's brisk, attractive production. And it goes for the four actors who flesh out highly ambiguous characters, none of whom are ever quite what we think they are.

“Slick” and „well-packaged” are rarely words I use in a complimentary way when writing about theater. In this case, they are intended as superlatives.

Galceran's play, made into an art-house film by Argentinean director Marcelo Pineyro in 2003, deconstructs the nature of competition and competitive personalities in the modern world. The story is simple on the surface. Four people gather in a high-rise office to undergo a job interview. But why are all the candidates in the room together? Who is doing the interviews? And what are the strange games that each individual must play according to requests delivered impersonally by way of envelopes placed in a drawer that opens and closes mechanically?

This play is built to surprise, so it would be unfair to describe the story's trajectory much further. What is obvious from the first to the last is that the human being is highly capable of being several people at once, and that, surely, is something that anyone wishing to obtain power and wealth would be willing to manipulate.

The space designed by Nikola Toromanov is modern corporate chic, but it is also enigmatic in its own right. At center-stage stands a long, shiny conference table, behind which are a pair of noiseless, sliding glass doors. A bank of clocks on one wall depicts various times around the planet. On another is a transparent flat map of the globe. Both walls are not just decorative, however, they are functional. You will have to see the show to find out why.

Hanging above the stage is a lifelike shark in full attack mode. It is, a program booklet tells us, a reference to Damien Hirst's art piece “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,“ which now belongs to the hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen.

That's all fine and good. But what it does as an element of design in „The Gronholm Method” is suggest that ruthlessness is hovering in every corner of this room.

Fernando (Sergei Chonishvili) looks exactly like a person you might expect to apply for a high-pressure, high-profile job. He is well-groomed, cold as steel and has a sharp tongue and a quick mind. He roves the room like a man primed to take it over.

Fernando is joined by a man who is almost his opposite. Enrique (Igor Gordin) is bespectacled, folksy, talkative to the point of being a blabbermouth, and his shirt has a way of constantly coming half-untucked.

Before long, another pair also enters. Mercedes (Viktoria Tolstoganova) and Carlos (Maxim Linnikov) claim to be old friends. They apparently are as uncomfortable about finding themselves in the running for the same job as they are about having to relive the memories of an intimate relationship that both may have been on the verge of forgetting.

Tolstoganova plays a brusque, self-confident woman who is willing to change her mind. Linnikov is the loosest and most ironic of the foursome.

Gardev put together a seamless production, in which most of the surprises actually do surprise, and the actors playing the characters seem to be real people. With each new task delivered to these job candidates, personalities and circumstances change. As confusing as that may be, it is also utterly convincing. Each of the four actors does a superb job of creating a distinct and individual personality, while they always work as a team to avoid revealing each new twist until the moment that it actually happens.

Galceran tossed every possible human quality into the stew of his play. Greed, arrogance, cunning, suspicion, anger, despair and even pity all get full airings here. Few of them, however, exist in pure form. The more despairing or pitiful things get, the more funny things may actually be.

And yet, what is the cost of experiences like this to the human psyche? Is there a point at which we break?

Be prepared to change your mind repeatedly about what — and who — you are watching throughout the course of this gripping, funny, and, at times, devastating performance.

“The Gronholm Method” (Metod Gryonkholma), a production of the Theater of Nations, plays April 28, 29, May 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. at the Meyerhold Center, located at 23 Novoslobodskaya Ulitsa. Metro Novoslobodskaya. Tel. 363-1048. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.