While Jews may not have a monopoly on suffering, they certainly wrote — or at least canonized — the book on it. The biblical story of Job has inspired artists throughout history, from the engraved illustrations of William Blake to the recent Coen Brothers film, “A Serious Man.”
But perhaps never has the underlying violence of the story been captured so terrifyingly as in Thomas Bradshaw’s play, “Job,” now running in an encore presentation at the Flea Theater.
Directed by Benjamin Kamine (who recently helmed “The Flying Latke” at the Flea), Bradshaw’s play follows the same arc as the original story but revolves around scenes of horrific violence. Job (Sean McIntyre) endures his children murdering, raping and sodomizing each other, while the patriarch himself ends up being both castrated and blinded. Nothing is sacred; God (Ugo Chukwu) trades juvenile jokes with his own two sons, Jesus (Grant Harrison) and Dionysus (Will Turner), even as He seals the deal with his brother, Satan (Stephen Stout), to test Job’s piety.
Bradshaw, 32, grew up in an African-American, Southern Baptist family in northern New Jersey. His plays, which include “Burning,” “Southern Promises” and “Strom Thurmond is Not a Racist,” typically lurch, like “Job,” from one scene of inexplicable brutality and inhumanity to another. Nevertheless, he has become a darling of the critics; The New York Times’ Ben Brantley calls him “one of the most deliberately and effectively confrontational American playwrights of his generation.”
In an interview, Bradshaw told The Jewish Week that he sought to understand the Jewish roots of Job in order to dramatize it. He soon discovered that there are more than half a dozen references to the tale in the Talmud, but surprisingly little consensus among the Rabbis about when it was written, who Job was, or if he ever even existed. “I thus went in a mythological direction,” Bradshaw said, “not imposing any point of view, but simply making Job into a representative of humanity.”
Kamine, who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Los Angeles, views the play as “disconnecting sin from suffering,” thus trivializing the latter. He noted that he is often struck by the wildly divergent responses that “Job” gets from the audience. “People are totally certain about their opinions of the play, even as they wildly disagree. They show who they are by what they take away from it.”
“Job” runs through Jan. 28 at the Flea Theater, 41 White St. in Tribeca. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m., as well as Sunday and Monday at 7 p.m. For tickets, $25, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or visit www.theflea.org.