nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 13, 2007
Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II, wrote the play Job in 1940; he was studying theatre at university and had not yet even entered the seminary. He wrote of it, "I have written a new drama, Greek in form, Christian in spirit, eternal in substance."
His description is accurate, and thanks to the Storm Theatre we have the rare opportunity to see this play, an early product of one of the most influential minds of the 20th century. Job is indeed Greek in form—though it is based on the story from the Old Testament, it is presented in the style of a Greek tragedy, with limited interactions among its characters, exposition provided mostly by a series of messengers, and a large chorus that comments on events and on Job's reactions to them.
Wojtyla explicitly links the suffering of Job with that of Christ: the conclusion of the play, offered by the prophet Elihu, essentially posits that Job's tribulations and Christ's both presage redemption. The playwright then connects this idea to the situation of the people of Poland, who had just undergone invasion by the Nazis and Soviets, while seemingly none of their allies lifted a finger to help them. The play ultimately offers hope, indicating that just as the crucifixion inexorably led to the resurrection, so too will the fall of Poland eventually lead to its even greater renaissance in the future.
Director John Regis and his collaborators at the Storm have worked hard to provide context for a play that, on its own, feels far more sober and unyielding than a well-made play ought; Wojtyla's Job is more pageant than drama. Regis has created a framing device for the piece that works quite well: he's set the play in Warsaw in late 1944, after the uprising in which the Poles rebelled against their Nazi oppressors. It takes place in a bombed-out church (stirringly realized by set designer Ken Larson) where a priest and a small band of resistance fighters are enacting this play for survivors who have gathered here for comfort and security amidst grave peril. The priest frequently (and helpfully, for the contemporary American audience) interrupts the proceedings to provide information about the staggering losses that Poland experienced during the War; the "actors" portraying the characters in Job often do so in ways that comment on these experiences as well, as when they transform Job's neighbors into Poland's three "allies" at the beginning of the War (i.e., Great Britain, France, and Russia).
Regis and the Storm have cast the piece expertly. Timothy Smallwood is a very sympathetic, human Job; Dan Cozzens is gently stolid as the prophet Elihu. Joseph P. Sullivan grounds the entire play as the priest who serves as Wojtyla's alter ego. The remaining actors function as the chorus and other characters; particularly memorable is Brooke Evans, who gives Job perhaps its most luminous moment, singing (beautifully) an accompaniment to one of Job's laments.
The Storm revived two other Wojtyla plays last spring and they're going to give us the fourth, Jeremiah, later this month. Like its predecessors, Job makes for challenging and unfamiliar theatre. But its real value is in providing remarkable insight into the character of a man whose historical significance would prove to be enormous—what a gift, even in hindsight, these stagings of John Paul II's plays are.