If you saw Thomas Bradshaw walking down the street and didn’t know who he was, you wouldn’t look at him twice. Sure, you’d notice that he tends toward the dapper: some of us can wear hats, some of us cannot. For a fellow whose brand, if you will, is as one of the few genuine enfants terrible of the American stage, you might reasonably expect him to look more sinister, threatening or, very simply, nuts. Bradshaw’s genius is that he intends for the work to do the enfant-ing and the terrible-ing, allowing himself to seem very normal.
That branding is not something to be trifled with — and it has generated the kind of heat that most playwrights have wet dreams about. The New Yorker has paid homage while being sharply critical; Bomb chucked its critical rigor in exchange for sharpness and wit. And even as Bradshaw’s style has begun to acquire a definable shape, somewhere between satire and dialectic, leavened with an obsession for breaking on-stage taboos (and who knew there were any left?), his work remains stubbornly slippery, too. It was easy to roll one’s eyes at Burning‘s dramaturgical triptych of sexual and racial plunder but you were riveted as much as you were appalled and therefore you were equally nauseated, admiring and spellbound. Again and again the playwright pulls the audience into this netherworld of total discomfort and sickening hilarity, from Mary (with riffs on slavery and homophobia, not necessarily in that order, sent Chicago Sun-Times critic Hedy Weiss into life-threatening spasms) to The Bereaved (with riffs on rape and blackface) to Strom Thurmond Is Not a Racist, the kind of title (let alone the play) that practically moisturizes your face with provocation and subversion.
And now, at the Flea Theater, comes Bradshaw’s Job, based on a certain Biblical character you might have a passing familiarity with. Given the playwright’s fetish for shocking situations, perhaps it was only a matter of time before he tipped his fedora in the direction of the most tortured and tested figure in the history of tortured and tested historical figures. The production, currently running through Nov. 3, is directed by Benjamin Kamine and features members of the Flea’s resident acting company, the Bats, including Bradley Anderson, Jaspal Binning, Ugo Chukwu, Alex Coelho, Timothy Craig, Jimmy Dailey, Edgar Eguia, Eric Folks, Cleo Gray , Grant Harrison, Layla Khoshnoudi, Adam Lebowitz-Lockard, Abraham Makany, Sean McIntyre, Nicolle Medina, Chester Poon, Ivano Pulito, Marie-Claire Roussel, Stephen Stout, Jennifer Tsay, Will Turner, and Christin Cato. (Only at the Flea can you get cast lists so wonderfully long.)
And now, 5 questions Thomas Bradshaw has never been asked:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
This is a question that Young Jean Lee asked me for an interview with American Theatre: “In this particular play, The Ashes — as in all of your plays — the hero is kind of an asshole. (Laughter) And the villains are incredibly sympathetic. So…Why?”
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Why does there so much sex and violence in your work?” Rarely has a person honestly asked me this question. Usually, there is no answer that is acceptable to them. But I will answer the question as it relates to Job. The story of Job is very extreme and violent. To avoid these elements would be dishonest to the story. The audience needs to feel the horror that Job feels.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Is this play autobiographical?” In this day of reality TV and the personal memoir, some people find it hard to grasp the idea of “Imagination.” I think it’s very weird when someone asks me that question after seeing one of my shows.
The final three questions (one is a bonus!) are devised by the staff of the CFR:
4) While the natural question to ask about Job is “What attracted you to the material?,” the more provocative question is “What about the story of Job repels you?” If the answer is “nothing,” why?
Nothing about the story of Job repels me. I’m clearly quite attracted to it, or else I wouldn’t have chosen to adapt it! I think it’s a fascinating story with an endless amount to say about the human condition and the nature of suffering. I think it’s a story that everyone can relate to.
5) Mitt Romney wants to see one of your plays. Which one would you want him to see and why? What would you say to him at the performance?
The Book of Job seems like an obvious choice for such a religious man. I would then ask him whether his church would like to do their own production of the play.
6) If you could be God and exercise absolute dominion over the theater and society as a whole, how would you define taboo? How would you enforce prohibitions against taboos? What would you do if a person or group flouted it? Written laws are so confining. Different things would be taboo depending on my mood. So, in a way I’d probably be more Old Testament than New Testament. As far as enforcement is concerned, a good spanking can go a long way. Of course, some might not consider that a punishment….