Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Thomas Bradshaw

Review | Job by Thomas Bradshaw | Directed by Benjamin H. Kamine | Featuring The Bats | Flea Theater

… why do the righteous playgoers suffer? …

The story of Job reinterpreted by a contemporary playwright:  what an intriguing idea.  Exotic times and places — here the ancient Near East — are appealing.  And a play that takes you to supernatural venues, like Heaven, as this play does, and to actually “see” God, at home, so to speak, always have an extra magnetism.

I was really looking forward to this play.  But Bradshaw’s Job is intellectually incoherent, weak on character, and brings no insight into the iconic story to the question asked by the story of Job:  Why do the righteous suffer?

Instead it has the most graphically cruel, bloody, violent, and sadistic depictions of any play that I have ever seen (and my guess is that has ever been produced).

Back there in the ancient Near East, righteous Job starts off as a man of stature — he’s a Judge in his community — and wealth — he has huge holdings in land and livestock, and he has a loving wife and family.  Truly he’s been blessed by God and he responds with piety and burnt offerings.  But — it’s easy to be good when things go well for you — Satan works out a deal with God to test Job’s piety by loading Job down with misfortunes.

Soon Job’s son seizes his sister, Job’s daughter, in brutal lust, beats her, and — the girl’s all-out attempts to fight him off turning into involuntary twitches — strangles her to death — and with the help of a huge drop of his own saliva to his penis, rapes her.  (Is it counted as rape if she’s dead? a character questions later.)

Still Job does not curse God.

Sean McIntyre as Job with Marie-Claire Roussel as Esther.  Photo by Hunter Canning

Sean McIntyre as Job with Marie-Claire Roussel as Esther.  Photo by Hunter Canning

But his wife curses Him plenty and is out the door.

Subsequently Job is castrated by victims of his earlier justice, the lumps of Job’s testicles — and penis — falling bloody but unmistakable to the stage floor.  Plop.  And plop.

Naturally, the victims, father and son, cut out Job’s eyes.   (Boils would seem good after this.)

The brutes topple the wounded man over in his chair.

Then they take the chair.

Job’s eye bandages, his patriarch-in-the desert type cloak, and the whole stage is a bloody mess for the rest of the play.

By the time Job’s cattle, sheep and goats are stolen, why should anyone care?

There are scenes in Heaven where an easy-going God fecklessly keeps in bounds the rivalry between his two sons, Jesus and Dionysus (there are a whole lot of other of God’s sons scratching at a closed door), and chats with Satan about just how far they should take this Job thing.

So far, although some of Job’s misfortunes are newly invented, the story has — roughly — followed that of the Book of Job.  There’s a new twist, though, at the end which I won’t reveal — it’s just another graphic presentation of disgusting, brutal violence unmotivated by anything the playwright has developed through the play.

The Flea Theater’s crew of outstanding young actors has less to work with than usual because the characters, even including such potentially rich figures as Job, and God, are thinly written, and ultimately are not sympathetic or arresting.  God is cute.  Job is bombastic.  The choreography is flat and obvious, compared with that seen at The Flea recently in its masterful production of These Seven Sicknesses, where The Bats had the chance to fulfill their outstanding and varied talents.

It’s conceivable that all this voyeuristic violence could have a point, but it doesn’t.  It’s there for its own sake.  There is no new way offered for looking at the story of Job, no insight into why the righteous suffer, no idea that could carry one’s thoughts to a new place.  It’s hard to square the wishy-washy “what’s the point of this play?” problem with the clarity of purpose and driving development in Bradshaw’s fine, earlier play, The Bereaved.

I thought for awhile the idea might be that Job caught on to the fact that God was merciless and so, following God’s example, became merciless himself but when I asked the playwright in a “talk-back” after the performance if that was “the idea,” he gave the uncommitted answer that he had for most questions, “It’s open-ended.”   But open-ended is one thing;  intellectual inconsistency, unmotivated action, arbitrary characterizations … these take you nowhere.

Job plays at the Flea Theater in Manhattan’s Tribeca through November 3. Note: It’s been announced that Job is coming back to The Flea Theater — Thomas Bradshaw’s Job is returning to The Flea to run  January 4 – 28.

Review | Burning by Thomas Bradshaw | Directed by Scott Elliott | New Group | Acorn Theatre

… The Marquis de Bradshaw …  

One gets the impression that Thomas Bradshaw began by making a list of everything he could think of that might shock you  re sexuality and worked his story to get in as much of it as possible, and then went on to make sure to get it acted out as graphically as possible.  By the way, it’s not remotely erotic.  More just plain distasteful.  And disappointing, given the talent Bradshaw has shown earlier.

Review | The Great Recession | Plays by Thomas Bradshaw, Sheila Callaghan, Erin Courtney, Will Eno, Itamar Moses and Adam Rapp | Flea Theater

The Flea is presenting six plays by six authors, each with some reference to the recession.  The actors are drawn from The Flea’s “Bats,” the young, capable and energetic actors of their resident company — you find yourself hoping for a good show at least as much for them as for yourself, but it doesn’t happen.  For most of the plays, the link to the recession is so synthetic it doesn’t matter.  The plays don’t matter much either, which is too bad for what must have seemed like a good idea.

Classic Kitchen Timer by Adam Rapp is based around a kill or be killed bargain.  A character out of work is offered $25,000 to murder a baby or herself be murdered.  If someone “in the audience” prevents her from killing the baby in a set time, she’ll killed by whoever interferes, which occurs, leading to the bargain being reset for him — kill the baby and make a lot of money or be killed, and so on …   The situation is so bizarre that it doesn’t illuminate the lives of those out of work because of the recession (or for any other reason).

Fucked shows Itamar Moses’ keen ear for the dialog of contemporary relationships as in his enjoyable Love Stories at The Flea, reviewed here February 2009.  There are similar amusing moments in this one, but nothing really happens:  the girl leaves but that’s a foregone conclusion, and it’s also obvious from the start that the guy doesn’t care.  A phone conversation reveals that the guy’s dad has lost money in commodities but that doesn’t figure in the play and so seems squeezed in to fit the recession theme.

In New York Living, Thomas Bradshaw returns to his loveless couples breaking up and recoupling — what difference does it make who as long as there’s a live body and some sex?  In his recently produced The Bereavedreviewed in September, this theme had a political purpose — it was the engine that drove a revolutionary parable.  Here, the “issues” between the couples are childishly prurient with much ado about erections, and the mechanical breakups and recouplings have no purpose at all, like the plot of Cosi Fan Tutte without the music.  Needing a place to live figures but — boom or bust — that’s always true for young actors in New York City.

Severed by Erin Courtney is a conversation between two people on a bench in which the young man, in a fine suit, is out of work but optimistic, and the young woman, who seems briefly attracted to him, leaves for her job with preschoolers wearing as she does for work a huge over-the-head bulbous eunuch’s mask.

In Recess by Sheila Callaghan, insane people mill around an open area as in a classic Bedlam.  One lies dead and another’s dead by the end from compulsive exercise and anorexia, while a couple plays footsies, men fight, and the group eats a meager meal while imagining better fare.  So many people appear nude in Recess that by the end it’s totally clear that there’s a difference between male and female anatomies but then that’s not news.  Recess, the program says, takes place in an “apocalyptic near future when the bottom has indeed fallen out” but you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t read it.

Unum by Will Eno, about the mighty and not-so-mighty dollar, develops slowly and stiffly and with empty pauses between episodes, until finally it reaches a truly affecting passage when a mother with Alzheimer’s is moved to a care facility because of the squeeze on living space.

Two performances stand out among many good ones.  In Classic Kitchen Timer, Nick Maccarone is wry and balletic as a Host, really a Master of Ceremonies in the style of Joel Grey in Cabaret  (though the role seems pointless in connection with the play).  Jessica Pohly in Fucked has a terrific comic delivery while conveying genuine feeling, like Carol Burnett.

The Great Recession plays at The Flea Theater in NYC’s Tribeca through December 30.

Fucked - Flea Theater

Dorien Makhloghi and Jessica Pohly in Fucked by Itamar Moses
Photo: Courtesy of The Flea Theater

Review | The Bereaved by Thomas Bradshaw | Directed by May Adrales | Partial Comfort Productions | Wild Project

… race ya to the bottom …

At first it seems The Bereaved is going to be a superficial play, a sitcom, at best a comedy of manners and it does keep the audience laughing, but one comes to realize it’s a dead serious, carefully constructed and politically radical play, written by a Black playwright, about race — specifically about which race or races will come out on top and which at the bottom.

Review | Dawn by Thomas Bradshaw | Directed by Jim Simpson | Flea Theater

… partial redemption …

Dawn at The Flea Theater has lots to keep you interested including vivid and sensational scenes, great acting and important content — alcoholism and child sexual abuse.  It would be stronger if it did not struggle with problems of character and plot.

In the most powerful episode, a pedophile Uncle transforms an on-line Lolita into his sexual partner all the way to rolling-on-the-floor-naked success.  It’s the crux in this play of family disaster and a classic scene:  well observed, well written, an engine for the narrative and on a significant topic.

But other scenes are only titillating ad-ons.  A gorgeous young actress in a Victoria’s Secret garter belt ensemble lustily climbs astride her elderly, gin sodden husband, failing to get a rise out of him.  It’s part of a subplot that brings hype to the play, not drama, and doesn’t ring true.

The acting hits every target.  Gerry Bamman as the successful business man and elderly alcoholic conveys psychological nuance and hilarity — he’s never out of character.  Irene Walsh as the desirous younger wife, Kate Benson as the ironic but vulnerable first wife, Laura Esterman as the beleaguered mother of the sexually abused 14 year old, Steven as the God loving abuser, Jenny Seastone Stern as the 14 year old “in love” with her Uncle — all are perfect.

But in spite of their best efforts, the play is unconvincing.  How on earth does this elderly, violent, man who polishes off gin by the quart maintain his successful business and — if that were not enough — remain an object of sexual and emotional desire for two women?  Why on earth is his young wife filled with lust for an old drunk who doesn’t reciprocate her passion, and why so unwilling to leave him?  Why should we believe in the facile religious conversion of this brutal, dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic?

The ending, though, is smart, thought provoking and true — it goes part way to redeem the rest.

DAWN plays at The Flea Theater on White Street in Manhattan’s Tribeca, through December 6.

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