“Job” begins with a woman in her twenties pointing a gun at a male therapist in his sixties. Why? That’s not fully revealed until the end of the therapy session, a climax that’s so odious and implausible that it thrusts the two-character play into the horror genre – and undermines what I found worthwhile about it. The twist fits an unfortunate trend among emerging playwrights that arguably reflects the pernicious influence of the film and TV industries.
I need to say here that my opinion is evidently in the minority, and so late-arriving as to be superfluous. “Job” is near the end of its (twice-extended) run, and is officially sold out, according to its website, although they advertise both rush tickets and a standby line (presumably in case of cancellations.) The performance I attended, a matinee during a rainy day, was packed, filled with the kind of theatergoers that other shows would kill for – which is to say, almost entirely people under the age of 30. That’s the same age as the playwright, Max Wolf Friedlich (Wesleyan Class of 2017.) The popularity of “Job” among this demographic may be an illustration of one of the main themes of “Job,” the generational divide.
Loyd the therapist (Peter Friedman) and his new patient Jane (Sydney Lemmon) discuss that divide extensively (after she has put her gun back in her tote bag.) Their back-and-forth mostly focuses on the difference in the attitudes of his generation (reductively referred to as “hippies” or “boomers”) and hers (“tech bros”) toward technology. “You villainize us because tech bros and hippies are at war,” Jane says. “And we are winning.”
The ostensible reason Jane has shown up in Loyd’s office is because the large tech company that employs her (apparently Google, although unnamed) has put her on paid leave, after she had a meltdown at her workplace, screaming atop her desk, which her colleagues captured on their smartphones and went viral. (“I was a meme,” she says. “I was everything wrong with tech…When I try to go outside I get recognized…I’m famous, and nobody knows who I am.”) The company won’t allow her to return to work until she gets the OK from a therapist.
So Loyd tries to conduct a standard therapy session, exploring the root causes of her panic attack, asking about her childhood, etc. but he is ever mindful of the gun in her bag, eventually pointing out, reasonably: “Please realize what is happening here: You are holding me hostage.”
Peter Friedman, a consistently reliable New York actor I’ve seen in dozens of shows on and Off Broadway (you may recognize him from Succession and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) does an admirable job in persuasively inhabiting a character trying to be professional in handing someone manifestly dangerous. Sydney Lemmon, a Yale Drama School graduate who is a relative newcomer to the New York stage, does what she can to play up her character’s intelligence, and underplay her menace. But this is not a realistic situation. The production acknowledges this, albeit indirectly and oddly, with abrupt blips of lighting, and intrusive out-of-nowhere sounds (pornographic moaning, buzz saws, cracking whips), which obliquely suggest some of what we’re witnessing may just be happening in Jane’s mind. Or maybe sometimes Loyd’s too. The play is often both dark and cloudy.
More than halfway through “Job,” we learn the specifics of Jane’s job: user care, she calls it. She is a content moderator, trusted with getting rid of the ugliest aspects of the Internet. And here the playwright makes more explicit what’s been bandied about from the get-go. The effect of technology on individuals and society is not limited to the world-changing benevolence that the people getting rich off of it like to talk about. Tech comes with terrible costs.
There are moments during “Job” when Friedlich struck me as an intelligent writer, with something to say, and thus one of those “playwrights to watch.” But at one point, Loyd compares the psychedelics of his generation with the “slow drip of dopamine” of hers “that comes from these devices in our pockets.” It’s a throwaway line, but it made me start thinking about how much of “Job” is aimed toward stimulating the parts of our brains that produce the dopamine, at the expense of the parts that do the thinking. The play is full of tension, and twists, in a way that reminded me of several plays over the past few years – such as Small Engine Repair by John Pollano, Office Hour by Julia Cho, Blackbird by David Harrower – that offered shock for shock’s sake. Several of them — no surprise — were made into movies.
SoHo Playhouse through October 29, 2023
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission
Written by Max Wolf Friedlich
Directed by Michael Herwitz
Scenic design by Scott Penner, costume design by Michele J. Li, lighting design by Mextly Couzin, sound design by Jessie Char and Maxwell Neely-Cohen, dramaturg Hannah Getts
Cast: Peter Friedman, Sydney Lemmon