Playwright Thomas Bradshaw writes about controversial moral issues like pedophilia and slavery with dialogue that often stuns with its blunt clarity. So it wasn’t surprising when last season’s Burning excited nearly as many people as it enraged. His latest play, Job, which is based on the biblical story, is now at the Flea Theater and is sure to be talked about as well. TheaterMania recently spoke to Bradshaw about this unusual work.
THEATERMANIA: How did this play come about?
THOMAS BRADSHAW: I’m kind of fascinated by The Bible as literature and as the foundation of western morality. I was really interested in the idea of what’s written there versus the interpretation of it. I went to church as a kid and in Sunday school, you have to read The Bible and then you talk about it. I always wondered how they got from point A to point B. But I wanted to get out of the interpretation game and just present what’s written there.
TM: What drew you to Job’s story in particular?
TB Job is one of the most famous stories and I think in a way it’s one of the most analyzed because it’s difficult. There isn’t easy morality; there aren’t easy answers. The more difficult something is the more people pour over it and try to analyze it.
TM: There’s a great philosophical exchange you have between God and Satan where the latter asks how Job would react if God took everything away from him, and that question launches a game between them. Where did that come from?
TB: That conversation, once we get passed the dancing and fart jokes, is pretty much how things went down in The Bible. At the beginning of the book of Job it says, “Satan came to a meeting of the sons of God” and God starts ignoring all his sons and says like “Hey, Satan! What going on? Have you seen my servant Job?” Then they have this conversation and then Satan goes away and we watch what happens to Job. I’ve put it in extremely modern and direct language, but I’ve tried to do as little interpretation as possible.
TM: What was the biggest challenge in creating this piece?
TB: The challenge of the original text is that so much of it is just Job’s lamentations. It’s not really a dramatic story. I had to create a dramatic story out of something nobody could ever possibly watch. I just give the audience a sense of what his lamentations are like. I’ve got like two or three long sections in there, but that’s only a half a percent of what’s written. I did have to interpret some things like the relationship between God and Satan. Why is Satan hanging out at the meeting of the sons of God in the first place and why is he more important than the sons of God?
TM: Were you able to answer that question?
TB: To me they seemed like brothers. Maybe, he’s the black sheep of the family but a brother nonetheless. Then I had to solve this problem of who are these sons of God? Obviously, Jesus makes sense. He existed before God sent him to earth. The Old Testament God reminds me a lot of the Greek Gods, so that’s why I thought I should bring a little bit of Greek mythology in here with Dionysus.
TM: How has the script evolved since you workshopped it in 2009 at the Soho Rep?
TB: With the previous workshop, I got the script into the framework that it is now. Then I got into the real detail work. I sit in rehearsal just listening for it. I’m mostly cutting individual lines or a few lines. I’m sure it would all only amount to a five or ten percent change in the script.
TM: Do you like it when people describe you as a provocateur or do you find that label limiting?
TB: I don’t like it, and I do find it limiting. The title provocateur implies there’s no intellectual or artistic underpinning to what I’m doing. That I’m just sitting in my room thinking, “What’s going to shock people now?” Really what I’m trying to do with my work is present a genuine portrait of reality. Now, perhaps it’s a hyper-realistic portrait, but it’s reality nonetheless.