In a co-premiere from playwright-provocateur Thomas Bradshaw the sex is good, the play not so much
At this point, you walk into a Thomas Bradshaw play and you brace yourself. Something terrible is coming down the pike and unless you watch out—or even if you do—it’s going to smack you right in the face. But in his new play Fulfillment there isn’t a smack. Instead there's a flip.
When Michael (Stephen Conrad Moore), a hardworking associate at a prestigious NYC law firm, walks into his boss’s office and states that he hasn’t been promoted because he's black, he is instead informed that it’s actually because he’s an alcoholic. Which he totally is.
Fulfillment mostly forgoes Bradshaw’s usual shock-in-trade and trades it in for a slippery, shifting unknowability. Oh, and a lot of graphic sex too. The problem, though, is that Bradshaw’s dialogue and scenes and characters don’t stand up to the reality test. Even as Michael joins AA, tries to make things work with his girlfriend Sarah (Erin Barlow) and enters into a noise-level war with his new upstairs neighbor Ted (Jeff Trainor), the details never materialize and the action remains inert. It’s a New York play whose New York feels blander than the one on Friends.
Director Ethan McSweeny—working with his second cast on this script, which premieres in a co-production with New York's Flea Theater—does nothing to help either. The performances are clunky—especially Moore’s—the staging is bland, and the scenes feel perfunctory. Like many a bad relationship, the only thing that keeps you in it is the sex. As staged by “sex choreographer” Yehuda Duenyas, the scenes are both scary and scary-hot.
This is a play in which the author refuses to tip his hand. Michael’s many failings seem to be much of his own making, but then you can’t help but feel that the game he’s playing is rigged. He might be an alcoholic, but the firm still uses him as their token black guy. He might have a temper, but his neighbor’s is worse. Sarah might be the best thing that happened to him, or the worst. Bradshaw doesn’t give us answers, but his play’s questions—unlike its sex—fail to provoke much of anything.
American Theater Company. By Thomas Bradshaw. Directed by Ethan McSweeny. With Stephen Conrad Moore, Erin Barlow, Jason Bradley, Jeff Trainor, Scott Olson, Justin Cornwell, Erika Napoletano. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.