Job Review: Why Good People Suffer, At The Flea
It is hard to know who to blame for the horribly wrong turn taken in Job, the Flea Theater’s initially promising stage adaptation of the Biblical Book of Job, the text that long has offered comfort to sufferers and debate for the religious.
Why do good people suffer? How can an all-knowing, all-benevolent Supreme Being allow evil in the world? These are questions with which people have grappled since the beginning of history, and they lose none of their currency, or urgency, today.
Doing a theatrical version of the Biblical tale seemed like yet another good idea in The Flea’s continuing (and almost solitary) effort to address the losses that so many people feel in these hard times. Initially commissioned by the Soho Rep, “Job” is written by Thomas Bradshaw, a professor of playwriting at Northwestern University, in what is billed as “an honest, un-cynical adaptation.”
In Bradshaw’s version, we first see Job (Sean McIntyre) acting like a local magistrate, showing mercy to a thief with a hungry family, then condemning a rapist to death by stoning. This is not in any translation I’ve read of the Book of Job, but it makes sense, since the story has not been updated to modern times, where such activity might be dismissed as limited to vigilantes and the Taliban. Job is said to be upright and righteous. In Biblical times, given the absence of a local judicial system, a righteous man would see it as his duty to enforce the commandments and interpret divine law.
The next few scenes dramatize the bet made between God (Ugo Chukwu) and Satan (Stephen Stout) about whether Job will continue to be pious if his good fortune and good health are taken away from him. These scenes take larger liberties, with the playful addition of two of “God’s sons,” Jesus and Dionysus (Grant Harrison and Erik Folks), who exhibit a sibling rivalry and comical exchanges threaded throughout the rest of the play. (“Why are they always sacrificing lambs?” Dionysus asks Jesus about mortals. “Why do they think we like that?”) It’s conceivable that some deeply religious Jew would be offended by the insertion of Jesus into a tale that is part of the Tanakh/Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, but it is unlikely that anyone like that would wind up watching a show at the Flea in the first place.
No, the wrong turn comes once God has agreed to let Satan visit afflictions upon Job. In the Bible, foreigners destroy his livestock and kill his servants, then his children, and then Job himself is struck by illness – specifically, boils cover his skin.
In Bradshaw’s version, one of Job’s sons kills and rapes one of his own sisters and then is himself sodomized with a broomstick and killed by another brother, who later commits suicide. Job himself has his eyes gouged out and his penis cut off. This is all done very graphically: The murdering brother briefly masturbates naked before he rapes his sister; Job’s eye sockets spurt blood inches from the audience; we see his bloody penis thrown onto the stage. Director Benjamin Kamine should probably take the hit for this X-rated, B horror movie treatment.
It is virtually impossible to take seriously or feel moved by anything after that exercise in Grand Guignol; even just absorbing what’s going on is not easy, especially during two long monologues by Job complaining about his lot, which jarringly lift poetic passages verbatim from the King James English translation. Job also gives a mini-lesson in Jewish history to the daughter of a friend (“Who built the first temple?” “King Solomon”), making one briefly wonder whether a demented Sunday school teacher has suddenly hijacked the theatrical enterprise.
Indeed, several scenes feel like a production straight out of a (really liberal) religious high school, an impression helped along by the uneven performances and uniformly young age of the 20-member cast. All of them are members of the Bats, the Flea’s resident theater company, which is basically a non-paying internship that attracts recent graduates. Previous productions have shown me the tremendous talent within this ensemble, and there are certainly stand-outs in this cast, including most of the principals. But as a whole, they feel ill-used in “Job.”
At the Flea Theater
41 White Street
Written by ThomaS Bradshaw based on the Book of Job
Directed by Benjamin H. Kamine
Set by Aaron Green, lights by Jonathan Cottle, costumes by Ashley Farra, sound by Jeremy Bloom, choreography by Joya Powell, makeup artist and special effects by Justin Tyne, stage manger Courtney Ulrich
Cast: The Bats:
Bradley Anderson, Mimi Augustin, Jaspal Binning, Ugo Chukwu, Alex Coelho, Timothy Craig, Jimmy Dailey, Edgar Eguia, Eric Folks, Cleo Gray, Grant Harrison, Layla Khosnoudi, Adam Lebowitz-Lockard, Abraham Makany, Sean McIntyre, Chester Poon, Ivano Pulito, Marie-Claire Roussel, Stephen Stout and Jennifer Tsay.
Job is scheduled to run through October 7.
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