The Bats at the Flea Theater
written by Thomas Bradshaw
directed by Benjamin Kamine
Sept. 22, 2012
Thomas Bradshaw, always provocative, has never been so bold as he is here, in his adaptation of Job. The biblical book tackles the cause of suffering, depicting a seemingly heartless wager between God and Satan over the strength of Job's faith. When pressed to account for Job's suffering, God refuses: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the Earth?” Without losing any of the tragic amplitude of the original, Bradshaw turns this into a radical commentary on authority. Job, a successful owner of livestock, sits in judgment over a small fiefdom, mercifully adopting victims of rape and, more disturbingly, be-handing thieves. This mortal world is all bushy beards, animal sacrifices, and declamations in a pseudo-Biblical style. Heaven is superficially different―pressed khakis, wine glasses served on trays, and genial conversation―but its God is just as stern when He delivers His verdicts.
In past shows, Bradshaw has staged explicit and often violent sexual acts, seeming simply to enjoy provoking audiences. But in Job, these horrific acts purposefully underscore the fraught nature of human existence. Castration and necrophilic rape suggest that Bradshaw is personally horrified by (and drawn to) sexual degredation as a dramatic tool, though he also engages the tragic tradition of blinding as the ultimate metaphor for suffering. But Job's suffering, when it occurs, is neither tragic nor heroic, it's just pathetic. As his life becomes unbearable, he laments in plaintive tones that distract God from His silent meditation practice. To end the distraction, God descends from Heaven for His empty self-justification. Job's body, property, and status restored, he returns to ordering amputations.
A casual reading of Job easily sets it up as an allegory for the '07-08 economic catastrophe. Wall Street (Job) is hobbled but, once bailed out by the Government, returns to its merciless behavior. Common humanity is unchanged throughout: hungry, violent, and fearful. Bradshaw's previous shows have presented a satiric worldview, which would reinforce this reading. But the difference with Job is that Bradshaw seems to believe that hierarchy is fixed and authority is inevitable as well as selfish. Maybe that view stems from the source material, but Bradshaw hasn't altered or subverted it. The show's only irony (though it's a deep one) is a tragic fear for physical frailty and a tragic pity for the exploited. That would seem to be Bradshaw's own position, since it doesn't correspond either to God or Job.
Benjamin Kamine's production of Bradshaw's script pads its runtime to 60 minutes by staging some exhilarating primitive Orientalist dances as well as horrific dumbshows of rape and murder. The Biblical atmosphere is richly evoked, Cecil B. DeMille by way of Peter Brook (if you can imagine that). In the title role, Sean McIntyre uses a deep baritone to stentorian effect, and plays smartly in a flat, Brechtian style that fits the play well. As God, Ugo Chukwu is smooth and casual, a being used to ultimate power. But his earthly manifestation at the show's climax is the evening's own tragic flaw. The problem partly is the costume, an unimposing mask and cloak, and partly Chukwu's voice, which lacks the raw vigor of divinity speaking from the whirlwind. It's a gravely disappointing moment, but Bradshaw's play has enough strength and depth to overcome this.
Job plays at the Flea Theater, closing on October 7. Tickets?