Thomas Bradshaw's new play at the Flea Theater takes audiences on an unsettling if exhilarating journey through the well-known biblical tale.
Directed with impressive felicity by Benjamin H. Kamine in the Flea's tiny basement venue, and featuring a company of 21, the show riffs on its source material in ways that are concurrently hysterical, cringe-inducing, and thought-provoking throughout its 60-minute running time.
Bradshaw retains the basic arc of the biblical tale which centers on the pious Job (a powerful turn from Sean McIntyre), who finds himself at the center of a cruel contest between God (Ugo Chukwu, who seems to be channeling both Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sherman Helmsley) and Satan (played with dry emotionless reserve by Stephen Stout). It's a battle that tests Job's faith, which Satan believes stems only from the fact that he has been blessed with abundance.
To prove his point, Satan causes Job to suffer the loss of his children, his possessions, and his physical well-being, but Job never wavers in his piety. Ultimately, God himself appears to Job and questions him, and once he has been satisfied, he rewards him "to show that if you are righteous and have faith in me, then you will be rewarded."
Yet, even as the playwright follows the outline of the oh-so-familiar story, he inserts anachronistic moments that compel audiences to contemplate its legacy, its place in the continuum of Western religious ideology, and its contemporary relevance. For instance, God is always accompanied by two of his bickering sons – Jesus (made a preening prep by Grant Harrison) and the Greek demigod Dionysus (imbued with amusing slacker dimness by Eric Falks).
Similarly, whereas natural disasters are the primary cause for Job's losses in the bible, Bradshaw imagines far darker – and more human – reasons for the ills that Job faces. For instance, his physical woes are induced by two countrymen who believe that the ways that Job has unfairly meted out justice on earth, and his adult children's deaths are the result of lustful incest and anger.It's bracing stuff and could very well be considered mere shock theatrics, but Bradshaw's imagings and revisions are both in keeping with the often punitive tone that can pervade the Old Testament and have a certain contemporary quality to them.
Still, the work feels very much of an ancient time, thanks not only to the biblical garb provided by costume designer Ashley Farra, but also because of some of the script's rhetoric during Job's lamentations and his final confrontation with God. However, it's during these latter sections that Job stumbles, and neither McIntyre or Chukwu manage to find the ways to make the language spring to life for theatergoers' ears.
Ultimately, though, the production recovers from these missteps, and with the play's final moments Bradshaw leaves audiences with a gripping message about faith and justice – from both this world and heaven.