Written by Thomas Bradshaw
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
The two guys rocking out to an old Neil Young song are Black men. The violent thug in the hoodie is a White guy. Typical of Thomas Bradshaw, these images turn social stereotypes upside down, only to spin them again into new patterns. There are other Bradshaw trademarks here, like nudity and sex (some of it a tad kinky), and a violent climax. But FULFILLMENT also represents something of a departure for off- Broadway’s new enfant terrible. His eccentric, provocative style is still in full flower, but this time the play’s macabre tone and biting ironies are given added impact by the leanness of its structure and the appeal of its sincere but self-destructive protagonist.
Michael (Gbenga Akinnagbe) is moving up in the world. He’s just bought a luxury apartment and draws a high salary as an associate in a high-powered law firm. Before he can start enjoying his success, though, doubts begin to creep into Michael’s mind. His cantankerous upstairs neighbor (Jeff Biehl), a stay-at-home dad, lets his kid make noise at all hours of the night. Moreover, Michael’s new girlfriend Sarah (Susannah Flood), who also works at the law practice, is convinced that the company’s leadership is racist. That would explain why Michael, despite his work ethic and achievements, has not been made a partner. Michael angrily confronts his boss Mark (Peter McCabe) only to be told that race has nothing to do with it. It’s Michael’s drinking that’s the problem. Choosing AA over rehab, he embarks on a life of sobriety and spiritual enlightenment. As is often the case, it works– for a while. As work stress and conflicts with the neighbor intensify, Michael’s demons inevitably raise their heads again. This time, neither Sarah nor Michael’s best friend Simon (Christian Conn) can stop the coming conflagration.
Akinngabe’s sensitive performance humanizes Michael’s fruitless struggle to find fulfillment in a bottle, in sex, in material success or New Age religion. By turns likable, frightening, innocent and fastidious, he captures alcoholic behavior with empathetic accuracy. Akinngabe is aided by a versatile supporting cast, which also includes Otoja Abit as a laidback NBA star and Denny Dillon in multiple roles. Director Ethan McSweeny capably evokes an eerie modern world in which the racists are hard to distinguish from the equal-opportunity sadists. Brian Sidney Bembridge’s scenic and lighting design creates a chilling, sterile atmosphere of empty opulence. The show’s only major weak point its uneven pacing. The script is largely composed of short scenes, like a screenplay, and the multitude of complicated set changes between the scenes sometimes disrupts the flow of the story. A faster, more fluid approach would help tighten the play’s suspense and strengthen its emotional impact.
FULFILLMENT continues through October 19 at The Flea Theater 41 White Street (between Broadway & Church Streets) New York, New York. Tickets https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/14/