Thomas Bradshaw’s powerful, in-your-face interpretation of the Book of Job is highly inventive theater. Likely 1/4 Bible, 1/2 conjecture, and 1/4 implicit commentary, the piece is never less than riveting and unsettling. Strong stomachs only need apply. Familiar with only the bare bones of the story, I referenced The Old Testament and was fascinated to discover how the playwright was able to make the experience dramatically immersive, rather than preachy or pedantic. Instead of hearing about successive, sweeping trials and tragedies—the wiping out of family and murder of servants is only a beginning, we witness horrific events—rape, castration, violent blinding, which are somehow more immediately comprehensible.
At the start of events, the wealthy, magisterial Job demonstrates influence and wisdom. He suspends judgment on a thief trying to feed his family, instead offering him bread and cheese, takes in a widow (Esther) who refuses to comply with tradition and marry her husband’s brother because she’s still in mourning, and rescues a girl (Miriam) who has been raped.
With a flash of bright light and the sound of ethereal pipes, we’re in Heaven where God, in chinos and a white shirt, is meditating (yogic position and all). “Uncle Satan” (dressed likewise) patiently waits until The Lord opens his eyes and smiles. God’s favorite sons, the somewhat bratty Jesus and Dionysius (turquoise polos and chinos) join them to hugs all around. “Have you seen my servant Job?” God asks Satan proudly, “He’s incorruptible.” “How do you expect someone to act if you give him everything…!?” Satan challenges. God gives his angel permission to wreak “adversity, calamity, and hardship” on Job’s life so long as he suffers no personal harm.
Episodes in the firmament are cleverly spaced between escalating catastrophe on earth as Satan goads God into further testing his servant. To an unreligious ear, the sequence is logical. It also allows a bit of welcome comic relief. God executes a little dance of delight when ritual sacrifice (of lambs) occurs below, as does Satan when his influence is felt. The Devil’s choreography is sheer Bob Fosse. Both are deadpan—an eyebrow raised without lurching away from the story.
In the land of Uz, shocking acts of cruelty with calamitous consequences destroy Job’s life. Ready and willing to die, he’s steadfast in his faith and righteousness. In this version, the man is abandoned by all but God who comes down to earth to confront his agonized servant. (Three loyal friends offer lengthy dialogue in The Old Testament.) Much, if not all, of this speech is quoted. Job is, of course, redeemed. It’s his behavior when a life of richness and satisfaction is returned to him that gives us pause.
The Bats are an immensely talented and multi-faceted company. Their name on an invitation to review imbues my acceptance with enthusiasm. Unable to call out all the good actors, I mention the tip of the iceberg:
Sean McIntyre’s Job is Shakespearean in resonance and pith. The actor makes pain wrenching, stubbornness painful. As played by Ugo Chukw, God manifests an appealing balance of assumed omnipotence, unfathomable whim, and wit. His stage presence and timing is grand. Among the women, Layla Khoshnoudi’s Miriam is particularly sympathetic.
Job is impressive, trenchant playwriting; iconic theological history made accessible yet true to its core. Language sounds so classical that aside from God’s speech to Job, it’s fairly impossible to tell where quotes are embedded. Contemporary interludes both make appalling incidents bearable and postulate explanation. Sequencing provides atmosphere and context. Momentum is skillfully built. Economy is observed in service of narrative-the play is an absolute perfect length for impact and absorption. Thomas Bradshaw has given us an immensely successful evening of theater.
Director Benjamin H. Kamine has done a dynamic and inventive job with both actors and staging. There isn’t a weak link in overall focus. Even most small parts are characterizations. Actors listen. Vocal fireworks are credible. Brute force is so palpable audience members moan and turn away. Kamine pushes the envelope further than most and it works. Pacing is fluid and effective. High drama is as raw as comic relief is wry. Despite (a beautifully utilized) small space and limited budget, the festival scene is as cinematic as any I’ve seen live.
Choreography by Joya Powell lends grandiosity and verisimilitude to family events and humor to those angelic. Fight Director Michael Wieser catches one off guard with raw parentheses of seeming reality. Aaron Green’s well planned set evokes era, location, and mood as well as opportunity for contributing shadows. Ashley Farra’s Costumes are aptly biblical. Jeremy Bloom’s Sound Design is practically a cast member. From farm animals to distinctive music on earth and in Heaven, its richly suggestive. Jonathan Cottle’s Lighting adds splendid atmosphere. We almost see torches during festivities, recoil at ominous darkness, and blanche at celestial illumination.
Photos by Hunter Canning
Opening : Sean McIntyre, Adam Lebowitz-Lockard
2. Marie-Claire Roussel, Sean McIntyre
3. Sean McIntyre
The Flea Theater presents the New York Premiere of Job
Written by Thomas Bradshaw
Directed by Benjamin H. Kamine
Featuring The Bats
The Flea Theater
41 White Street (between Church & Broadway)
Through October 7, 2012