Glenda Frank in Manhattan
9 October 2023
This does not open with a bang although Jane (Sydney Lemmon, TÁR, “Succession”) is pointing a very serious looking gun at Loyd’s (Peter Friedman, Ragtime, “Succession”) chest. Loyd is the therapist assigned to evaluate her return to work after a very public breakdown when she stood on an office desk and screamed. She became an Instagram sensation, an immediate meme. But, oddly, the company fired everyone who posted the video and will only allow her to return to work once Loyd clears her.
Sydney Lemmon and Peter Friedman.
Photo credit: Emilio Madrid.
This play is not going where you expect. Watch for the incongruities! It’s a taut roller coaster that takes us through the dark web, unspeakable fetishes, and the difficult choices of contemporary women. That may sound like overload in an 85-minute play, but author Max Wolf Friedlich keeps a steady hand. We are always focused on the power struggle between Jane and Loyd. Our initial sympathies lie with Loyd, but they decrease the more Jane talks. Job is exciting, not a play you stop thinking about a day or even a week after seeing it.
Jane’s company is called User Care, a form of content moderation. The company created bots to travel through the Internet, flagging the illicit, inappropriate or obscene. She reviews the flags. Little by little she took over the work of the other 53 reviewers and became a modern biblical Job, suffering all the griefs, fighting “the evil every God warns about”. She tells Loyd, “The internet isn’t some fringe ‘young people’ thing anymore. It’s where we live. It’s our home and I am the front line of defence – there’s nobody else.”
Is this megalomania? She described her condition as paranoid and depressed. She’s on hefty doses of Mexican Xanax but Lemmon performs her as though she were on Ritalin. A frightened Loyd tries to persuade her that leaving the job would be her solution, but she protests. She broke down because of her ex-lover. It sounds preposterous but she makes her case. And so many of us have been there, able to keep the pieces of our lives in place until some emotional vulnerability unsettles the ballast. To right ourselves, we need to hold on to something, a friend, a workplace identity.
Jane loses both: the support of her former boyfriend and her job. But even suspended, she can’t stop working. It has become her mission. She searches the internet for local abominations. Sometimes she writes letters to inform the family; sometimes she travels to watch them; sometimes she carries a gun.
Peter Friedman and Sydney Lemmon.
Photo credit: Emilio Madrid.
And then another twist in the dynamic has audiences leaning forward in their seat, not having seen it coming although all the clues were in place.
I would like to see Job in the hands of another director. The play is presented from Jane’s point of view, which is slightly unhinged. To follow Max Wolf Friedlich’s script, Michael Herwitz inserted bizarre sound effects (drilling, car noises) and huge, flashing orange lights which are so distracting it took me a while to get back to the fast-moving play and I lost a few beats.
More challenging yet was Sydney Lemmon’s performance. There was a time when actors, like opera singers, were judged on their articulation. Lemmon would have been fine on a film or television set, not in a theatre. All Herwitz had to do was listen from the rear of the auditorium. (Yes, I had my hearing tested recently. It’s within normal range.) Lemmon is not alone in this. Better enunciation and volume can only increase her career opportunities. I asked for a script to see what I had missed. Not much, but like the sound and light effects, it distracts from the play. Peter Friedman, a solid actor I admire, would have been stronger with a hint of the sinister, but he nailed the terror of being held hostage by what seems to be a psychopath.
Among the many strengths of Job are its casual embrace of the contemporary, its acceptance of the co-existence of the morally absolute and the ambiguous and how the old system is failing us.
The production has been extended twice, playing now through October 29, 2023. For history buffs, the SoHo Playhouse, an Off-Broadway theatre in New York, dates back to the late seventeenth century. The current playhouse at 15 Vandam Street, opened in the 1920s and presented plays by Terrence McNally, A.R. Gurney and Sam Shepard, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag). 15 Vandam Street was formerly the site of colonial mansion Richmond Hill, which served as headquarters for General George Washington and later for Aaron Burr.