nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
June 17, 2010
"I'm not evil," says Clark Kent-like character Tom Blander. "Of course you are," says his therapist with a smile, "you're human."
This kind of back-and-forth about deeply held beliefs goes on to startling effect in Christopher Stetson Boal's new play Order. Austin Pendleton's direction ensures that what people say reveals much about their psyches. By the end we have seen dead bodies pile up and someone eating intestines, and surprisingly there is a perfectly simple explanation for everything.
For five minutes when the play opens, the characters are sitting preoccupiedly in various parts of the stage. As the action unfolds, this setup allows characters to be in two overlapping scenes, or for a character to be visible to some and not to others. Immediately, Tom tells his therapist that he is possessed. To prove it, he has a tape recording of a strange voice in his bedroom the previous night. This is where we meet Bathug, the devilish character who provides these voices. Except, everyone else hears Tom make the noises and does not see Bathug. Tom used to be a university professor but quit so he could join the corporate world and effect change from the bottom up. Now he is a secretary for a boss who pushes him around, sees a therapist who is verbally abusive to him, and is married to Mazy, who would rather read the Harry Potter series for the fourth time than be intimate with him. Tom is also harassed by his friend Joe who wants to hire him and start him at 80,000 to do some questionable work in the pharmaceutical industry. Tom says no on principle, and is then bullied by a bum into giving up his last dollar.
All of this changes when Bathug stops speaking in tongues and announces he has learned English. With this invisible guidance and perspective on power, Tom comes to dominate all of his interpersonal relationships. Just by talking to them in a different tone, Tom has his boss on his knees begging to be called "bitch" and sees his therapist regress to sucking his thumb. Quickly, Tom is in charge of Joe's company and very attractive to Mazy. However, soon after, Tom is called in by the police who have found the therapist's body and several others. Is Bathug in Tom's head, meaning that people are responsible for their own actions? Or can others get taken over by the ruthless pursuit of power?
It's such a pleasure to see theatre like this. There are answers to the above questions in the play, but presented in a vague way that lets the audience make up their own minds. It was a privilege for me to see my first Austin Pendleton production; Mark Karafin is assistant director. Ryan Tramont as Tom is so self-possessed by the end of the play that it is amazing to think his earlier helplessness is an act. The same in reverse goes for Mac Brydon as the boss Mr. Jacobi; at his meanest he is pouring the "fag coffee" Tom made all over his employee and at his humblest he is begging for the most demeaning affection. Brad Fryman as Dr. Fine the therapist is over the top: he punishes his patient for reminding him of his own weaknesses. William Laney as Detective Arlow comes in at the end with great warmth even though he has his own secrets. Amanda Plant as Mazy wants Tom to get a good job and kill lots of people, which totally makes sense as the play progresses. James Edward Becton as Joe is pleasantly ambiguous; there are reasons why you would and would not want to work for him or be friends with him. Gabe Bettio as Bathug is scary or almost lovable as Tom's moods dictate. James S. Washington as the homeless man shows us it could always be worse; Tom even takes money from him at one point. Ann Bartek's set design, as mentioned above, makes it easy for many things to happen at once, and Isabella F. Byrd's lighting helps people nearly get away with murder. Mark Richard Caswell's costumes actually give a glimpse inside the characters, like the merciless boss who wears shorts with his long sleeve shirt and tie.
Just announced today: Order has been extended through July 3rd.