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Theatre Review by James Wilson - September 18, 2023

Peter Friedman and Sydney Lemmon
Photo by Emilio Madrid
For those who have already secured a ticket to see Max Wolf Friedlich's Job, which is sold out for its entire run at the SoHo Playhouse, it would be best to read as little as possible about the production in advance. (I should note that the play's title references a person's occupation and is not, as I had been pronouncing it, "Job," as in "The Book of ___.") Advertised as a psychological thriller, the play's inciting moment and the numerous plot twists and turns that follow would be better appreciated without foreknowledge. However, for individuals who might want to know what all the fuss is about, in the tradition of stage thrillers, I am obligated to state that some (mostly slight) spoilers follow.

You have been warned: At the beginning of the play, the lights come up on Jane (Sydney Lemmon), a woman in her late twenties, clutching a green tote bag and threateningly pointing a loaded gun at Lloyd (Peter Friedman), a therapist in his sixties. After a few tense minutes, Lloyd eventually convinces Jane to put the gun away and initiate their scheduled session.

It turns out, Jane works for a large tech company in Silicon Valley, and she has been ordered to receive psychological clearance after suffering a very dramatic and very vocal breakdown at work. The incident had been caught on video, which soon went viral, and practically overnight, Jane has become a laughingstock and a meme.

Before Lloyd can sign the release, which would allow Jane to return to work, he wants to find the cause of her meltdown. He is convinced that the instigating cause is her position as a User Care specialist, which requires her to sift through and permanently remove from the internet extraordinarily violent, sexually exploitive, and deeply abhorrent videos, such as ones featuring child abuse. She insists that her job, which she regards for its public benefits, is not at the root of the episode, but her distress was caused by the reappearance of a former boyfriend.

As Lloyd attempts to penetrate Jane's psyche, delving into her relationships with her parents and college friends, for instance, Jane pushes back, inquiring into former hippie Lloyd's own complicated and traumatic past. In the psychological game of cat and mouse, it's not always clear who's the cat and who's the mouse. Like a macabre mystery, such as an Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King short story, there is a shocking and horrific climactic revelation. In the final gasp-inducing moments, it becomes clear why Jane (at least to her) has selected Lloyd for her "therapy," and why she had intended to destroy him.

Michael Herwitz's direction skillfully establishes the tension, and with the help of the excellent performers, generally sustains it throughout. Friedman's Lloyd is suitably avuncular, likeable, and he provides a grounded presence. In short, he is the perfect foil for Lemmon's Jane, who is an exposed nerve in human form. The two actors work beautifully off one another. The shifting power dynamic between the older man and younger woman is reminiscent of David Mamet's Oleanna, which was also set in a claustrophobic space. (Scott Penner's simple scenic design, adorned with a few pieces of furniture, effectively conveys the therapist's office.)

There are some unnecessary theatrical effects using flashy lighting (designed by Mextly Couzin), a spooky mask, and machine-like sounds (designed by Jessie Char and Maxwell Neely-Cohen and with music by Cautious Clay) to stop, start, and replay intense moments. The intent seems to be to allow the audience to enter Jane's glitchy neurological system and mental subconscious, but it comes across as heavy handed. The ever-present gun tucked away in the bright green handbag should be, in the Hitchcockian manner of suspense, enough to keep the stakes high and the audience on the edge of their seats.

A bigger problem, and one that can't be resolved by the director, actors, or theatrics, is the play's instigating premise. While there is much to enjoy in the peeling back of the characters' emotional layers, I had trouble moving beyond the initial set-up. The therapist's life has been threatened by a patient whom he has not met before, and she refuses to give over the gun. I can't imagine many therapists who would willingly give over a double session to rationally determine whether the gun-wielding client should return to work. The answer seems obvious, no?

Illogical elements aside, there are admittedly enough dramaturgical pyrotechnics to keep everyone except the most curmudgeonly reviewers riveted. Consequently, fans of stage thrillers will find a great deal of satisfaction in this Job.

Extended through October 15, 2023
SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: