A telling ache underpins the daft invention of "Quixotic" at the Powerhouse Theatre. Kit Steinkellner's tragicomic fable about an insurance drone possessed by Cervantes' deluded knight errant keeps one fancifully trenchant finger on the downsized national pulse.

The grimy windows and computer monitors of designer Eric Svaleson's aptly depressing set welcome us to the claims branch of Munsch-Littleton Insurance. As ambitious temp Sloan Carson (a vivid Paige White) learns from receptionist Darcy (Sarah Gold), don't cross boss Allie Lawrence (Coco Kleppinger).

Frustratingly involved with company scion Richard Munsch (Trevor Algatt), deceptively hard-edged Allie has no time for niceties, her soft spot for eccentric Arthur Quick (the memorable Isaac Wade) notwithstanding. An idealist down to his bicycle-hiked pants leg, Arthur staves off boredom with tales of chivalry, which he shares with co-worker Sam Panser (Ariel Goldberg).

Then one day Arthur detects distant heraldic music (courtesy of composer Corwin Evans) that nobody else hears. He grows wildly agitated and faints, an unnerving event that pales alongside his return from sick leave. Decked out in kitchen-utensil armor, Arthur resonantly identifies as "Don Quixotic, the knight of the sorrowful countenance," and "Quixotic" moves from cracked pastiche to social parable -- Elmer Rice meets "The Office."

Certainly that's how director Amanda Glaze's engaging Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble staging plays, the acting uniformly wonderful. Wade's mercurial hero spurs his pert colleagues, with Danielle Katz and Nathaniel Meek very funny as the office slackers.

True, the narrative is over-compressed, with some explication that would work better as subtext. The absence of blood at the pivot point is distracting, and too-visible entrances dull the intended pathos of the penultimate scene. Still, despite new-play blips, "Quixotic" tickles and grips us in its gallantly appealing mix of the mystical and the mundane.

Nichols is a freelance writer.

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