Theatergoers should know by now that if they’re seeing a new Thomas Bradshaw play, they’d better prepare for some shocking physicality. His previous plays (Purity, The Bereaved, Burning) featured graphic sex and violence and violent sex, all presented without judgment. In an interview with Slant Magazine, Bradshaw said, “In almost all our media, when we go to the theater or to the movies, I feel like there’s an inherent dishonesty... In a traditional drama, if someone does a bad thing they either need to feel remorse and repent, or they have to face judgment from the outside—they need to get their just desserts. That is simply not reality.”
His current play Job (at the Flea through Oct 7) runs 60 minutes, during which he exposes us to an extended incestuous rape and murder, an eyeball getting gouged out, and a castration. (When the eye was gouged at the foot of the stage, I had to move my feet to avoid having my shoes splattered with blood.) The murder/rape is presided over by Satan (Stephen Stout), who suggests to his brother God (Ugo Chukwu) that the loyalty of Job (Sean McIntyre) needs to be tested by misfortune. After getting the go-ahead, Satan stokes the destructive lust of Job’s son Joshua (Jaspal Binning) for his sister Rachel (Jennifer Tsay); daringly, the murder is staged so that we see Joshua experience moments of lustful, wondering tenderness as he assaults her.
Bradshaw isn't staging such violence merely to shock or to be a bad-boy playwright (as some writers might; I’m looking at you, Adam Rapp). He’s fascinated by the dark side of sex, the power dynamics of it, the fact that many sexual urges are not nice; he wants you to think about that and work it out for yourself, which is why he’s known as a provocateur. But his plays are all deadly serious and sharply questioning, even when they use crude humor to get across their points. Bradshaw cheekily presents God’s sons Jesus (Grant Harrison) and Dionysus (Eric Folks) as a pair of immature frat boys getting on each other’s nerves and jockeying for dominance; at one point, Satan says of them, “Give them another couple of thousand years; I’m sure they’ll grow out of it,” a joke that lands with reverberating force. Job himself is seen as self-involved and rather tiresome, and Bradshaw portrays Heaven and Earth as just part of the same bureaucracy, with Job as a kind of middle manager tormenting those below him as he has been tormented by his omnipotent Big Boss in the sky. The Flea Theater’s repertory company The Bats are well-known for their going-for-broke exuberance, and in Bradshaw they have a substantial play-wright well worth going for broke for.