Company: American Theater Company
Venue: American Theater Company (1909 W. Byron St.)
Die Roll: 10
Welcome to a palace of distinct American opulence! Hardwood floored condos, six figure salaries, stairwell sex, walls of backlit premium liquors, and readily available drugs. A landscape populated by status hounds that can smell the big pay-off that lies just outside of their reach.
That’s the slick environment that American Theater Company, director Ethan McSweeny, and “Fulfillment” author Thomas Bradshaw are hoping we’ll be distracted by, anyway.
What lies beneath is a play that is troubled and unsure of the message it wants to spray paint on the walls of contemporary literature. Maybe it’s an epithet against corporate exploitation, or a diatribe against the white privilege that allows for an undercurrent of bigotry to manifest itself. Although, personally, I think the impulse to paint a bright cartoon penis overcame the artistic team. “Fulfillment” has the opportunity to deliver scathing social satire, but stops short.
In “Fulfillment”, Michael (Stephen Conrad Moore) is on the verge of locking down a promotion, living in the luxury dwelling of his dreams, and getting romantically serious with a woman who is his physical and sexually voracious ideal, Sarah (Erin Barlow). But his boss, Mark (Scott Olson), won’t promote him until Michael deals with his alcoholism, and Michael is relegated to being the token black employee, trotted out for firm functions as needed. Pressures mount when his neighbor Ted (Jeff Trainor) starts a vicious tirade to make Michael’s home life unbearable, and when he suspects Sarah and best friend Simon (Jason Bradley) of cheating.
Then as they often do in theater, things fall apart in epic fashion. Michael is surrounded by people who gaslight him and assure him that his very real concerns are all in his head. When he must woo prospective celebrity athlete Delroy (Justin Cornwell), Michael slips and the worst consequences for even the tiniest transgressions seem to find him. His life spirals into violence and chaos.
Even in summarizing, it feels as if I am describing a much more gritty production than what appears on stage at ATC. Author Thomas Bradshaw has constructed very broad characters that lend themselves to satirization, but never seems to undercut anyone or anything in particular. Erin Barlow as Sarah, for instance, is a corporate go-getter, spiritual wellness seeker, submissive sexual role-player and an AA expert. This could be a statement on the many roles women assign themselves, but feels more as if Sarah is re-drawn just to keep scenes moving.
Jeff Trainor as Ted, the upstairs neighbor, devotes an exorbitant amount of time into making Michael’s life a living hell, but it’s incredibly hard to see what propels him to be so ruthless against minor infractions. It seems that Ted’s antagonism is ratcheted up when the script has need for more tension.
Stephen Conrad Moore as Michael is a bit of an enigma, in what I expected to be a nod to ‘Invisible Man’. He’s an outsider, asking for the rewards he sees handed out freely to his white counterparts, but being forced to double his efforts to get them. That being said, I’m not sure what has led Michael to alcoholism, his career, or even why he’s rude to wait staff.
All in all, “Fulfillment” may be missing something at the core of its’ identity. Is it an examination of race in the corporate sphere? A biting take on the shallow successes we chase? A platform for raunchy jokes, nudity, and hollow edginess? I hope that Thomas Bradshaw can clear away the brush and find the gems in his promising story.
Fair warning: “Fulfillment” is a treasure trove of sex, nudity, violence, explicit language and other fun adult situations.
TEN WORD SUMMARY: Rated NC17 for adult content, but PG13 for emotional development.
DICE RATING: d8- Has Some Merit