nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 13, 2005
Kevin Doyle's play The Position—second entry in this summer's Ice Factory festival at Soho Think Tank—is an absurdist tragicomedy about the alienation and despair of the modern urban worker. Or maybe it's an allegorical farce about how silly the rituals of corporate employment—in this case, the cattle call/job interview—are nowadays. Either way, it's kind of a Modern Times for our time: it's very funny, very pointed, and provides still more evidence (after last year's excellent Styrofoam) of Doyle's promise as one of the smart new playwrights on the New York theatre scene.
It takes place in a big anonymous corporate office where six anonymous men have shown up, at 9:00 a.m. sharp, for a job interview. Five of the men are dressed identically in regulation blue wool suits, light blue oxford cotton shirts, black shoes, and red power ties; each carries a leather portfolio. Inside each portfolio is a time-waster to get through the minutes while they wait to be called in by the secretary: a notebook and pencil, a PDA, an iPod, a magazine, a copy of today's Times. These accoutrements peg the men simultaneously as individuals and part of the crowd; and when we find out that though all seem to have the same name (Woppinger) they each insist their names are different, we understand that they're crying out for some kind of rescue from the anonymity that their very presence here, in this place, at this moment, doing this thing, more or less guarantees.
The Sixth Man does not look like the other five. His suit is rumpled; his shoes are sneakers; his socks are bright yellow; his striped orange tie looks appropriate for, as one of the others points out, the circus. His beat-up briefcase contains—nothing. He has forgotten his watch and his cell phone because he was in such a hurry to get here on time.
As the Fifth Man discovers, during what starts out as small talk while waiting to be called in, this Sixth Man is not here for quite the same reason as the others either. Yes, he needs a job; but he didn't search out this position in the usual way. Instead, he says, he gets phone calls—has gotten them for months now—in which a woman tells him to locate a particular classified ad in a particular newspaper and report for the interview. He's done this many many times now; he just hasn't actually made it in to the actual interview. And one more thing: he's working on a gigantic conspiracy theory involving geologic terms—words that the woman who calls him tells him to write down.
Is this guy nuts? Well, yes, at least a little. But maybe the other guys are, too: though they're not afraid to venture beyond the outer office and face the interviewer(s)—and some are even cocky about their chances—they are performing bizarre and meaningless rituals of their own. Doyle turns some of the rituals of waiting—checking that the cell phone is off, smoothing out the suit, finding that "just right" professional pose—into a fugue-like ballet that occupies five minutes or so of the first section of the play. It's hilarious because it's so foolishly recognizable. Maybe it's also a little bit scary.
Speaking of scary: what's up with the secretary? She seems to know our Sixth Man, and every time she comes out of her office she looks a little bit different. (Sometimes a lot different: she turns up in a gorilla suit at one point.) Is she crazy? Is the Sixth Man hallucinating?
In the end, Doyle provides us with no simple, compact answers. The Position captures the palpable angst of men vainly fighting the tide of events before they get washed away into corporate conformity. There appears to be little hope for them, ultimately; and when the Sixth Man finally gets his turn to walk into the office he's so frightened of, there's a genuine sense of something tragic having occurred.
Doyle has directed the play himself and, aided by choreographer Nicole Colbert, he has devised lots of interesting movement and business to illustrate the absurdity of the situation being dramatized. The cast is headed by Paul Newport, who is enormously affecting as the Sixth Man; Newport delivers a long monologue in the final section of the play that qualifies as tour de force, as our hero/anti-hero considers his options and his fate while he waits, alone, to be called in. The other five men are portrayed by Peter Moses, Jonny Cigar, Sean O'Hagan, Chris Gentile, and Scott Miller; they're all fine, especially working in tandem doing their little waiting room "dance." Calder Corey plays the secretary.
A suitably spare design for the piece is provided by Sarah Martin (set consultant) and Peter Hoerburger (lighting).
The Position strikes a blow for non-conformity and for independent thinking, two concepts that need boosters in 21st century America, I think. For all our multitude of choices, individuality seems sometimes to be in danger of disappearing. Smart, quirky, provocative work like this helps to ensure that that doesn't happen.