nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 27, 2005
The time: 9am sharp.
The place: A large American corporation.
The situation: The always-tense job interview.
That's the setup for Kevin Doyle's new, very interesting, not completely intelligible play, The Position. Five men, dressed identically in grey suits, blue cotton oxford shirts with button-down collars, and sharp-but-not-flashy red power ties, wait their turn as the secretary calls them in. Each has a slim, expensive-looking leather briefcase. Each enters, sizes up the room while the others size him up, and sits in the next available seat. Man Number 1 takes out a notebook and a pencil. Number 2 works with his PDA. 3 is plugged into a brand new iPod. 4 reads New York magazine. 5 browses the Job Market section of last Sunday's Times.
Typical, obviously. The rhythms of the ritual are captured to perfection by Doyle and his cast, who repeat movements, actions, and even conversations with a fugue-like precision. And indeed, the harmony and the structure of the thing—though never the meaning—achieves a kind of beautiful comic perfection as we watch it unfold in predictable fashion—an ode to empty capitalist conformity.
And then Man Number 6 enters, the same but quite different. The hair isn't neatly styled, the suit is rumpled, the shoes are sneakers, the tie is a wide orange striped affair that, as one of the other men correctly remarks, looks like it was borrowed from a circus clown. The briefcase—battered and ungainly—is empty, containing not even a resume.
With the arrival of this man, Doyle changes the rules of what had heretofore felt like one of those modern Eastern European absurdist satires about conformity, bureaucracy, and totalitarianism; he also ups the stakes, with some sacrifice of clarity. Man Number 6 sees the world differently from 1 through 5, which is to say that he actually pays attention to things. Such as, for example, the fact that the secretary's hair color is different each time she steps out of her office; or that all of the men waiting to be interviewed seem to have the same name.
But 6's reality itself may somehow be different, and here's where Doyle started to lose me. Our hero—for he plainly is that—was called on the phone by the secretary, invited to come to this interview in a bizarrely oblique way that nevertheless suggests a kind of insider status. Yet his non-conformity seems to stem as much from ignorance as from asocial impulses: he's not so much a rebel as an outsider in this button-down, 9-to-5 world, even though he talks about prior employment (at least in terms of his current situation, unemployment). He's convincing himself, further, of a strange conspiracy theory involving rocks and minerals.
With 6, The Position's absurdism gives way to a kind of surrealist political drama, half rage against the machine, half far-out fantasy. Once the other five have disappeared into the interview room (no one ever comes out of there except the secretary), 6 is left alone for a very long monologue that amplifies these two dramaturgical threads without clarifying either one. So I was left intrigued but not entirely satisfied by the play. Man Number 6's final reluctant journey into the interview room didn't carry the weight of tragedy that I expected it to have; and the play continues afterward with a coda that I didn't follow at all.
Doyle has directed his script, and with his cast he has mastered the complicated business required by its farcical opening, but the pace flags during the play's second half. (It occurred to me that staging the piece in a regular theatre with lighting instruments might mitigate this problem—in this production, the lighting never changes, and that's hard on the eyes.) The seven actors are generally fine, with Paul Newport in the marathon role of Man Number 6 especially impressive. Mark Gindick (1), Wilson McGrory (3), and Gregory Gilmore (4) seem particularly comfortable with the style and rhythms of the piece; Gindick is very funny and gets the evening's funniest gag, which I won't divulge here but will identify as laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Doyle, whose earlier play Styrofoam I heartily enjoyed, is clearly a writer of talent and intelligence, and I hope that he learns about his craft from the creation of this play. I will certainly be interested in what he does next.