Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fulfillment Center


I would not have been so disappointed with Abe Koogler’s new play at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage II if had not started promisingly. For the first 30 minutes or so, I thought it was heading confidently to an interesting destination. Unfortunately, as it progressed, the playwright seemed to lose control of his material and the play ended up at a dead end. In the well-written first scene, Alex (Bobby Moreno; Grand Concourse), the 30ish manager of an Amazon-like warehouse in New Mexico, is testing the speed of a 60ish prospective employee, Suzan (Deirdre O’Connell; By the Water, The Vandal). The interaction between the nice guy stuck in an unforgiving job and the down-on-her-luck ex-singer who desperately needs work is both funny and revealing. In the next scene we see Alex with his longtime girlfriend, the sassy Madeleine (Eboni Booth), who has just moved, reluctantly, from New York to be with Alex until an expected move to greener pastures in Seattle in six months. How they came to be an interracial couple and why they have stayed together almost ten years without even getting engaged are questions that remain unanswered. In the third scene we see Madeleine at the campground where she is staying as she tries to strike up a conversation with John (Frederick Weller; Mother and Sons; Glengarry Glen Ross), a taciturn 40ish carpenter whose most recent girlfriend has kicked him out. In the remaining scenes, each character meets with one of two others. The men never meet and the women never meet. The writing weakens, the play meanders and it finally grinds to a halt. Andrew Lieberman’s set, such as it is, is a long sand-colored platform running the length of the theater plus a couple of folding metal chairs. The audience sits on both long sides of the platform. Asta Bennie Hostetter’s  costumes are apt. Daniel Aukin is a director whose work has included some fine evenings of theater (4000 Miles, Bad Jews, The Fortress of Solitude) as well as some terrible ones (Fool for Love, Rancho Viejo, Placebo, What Rhymes with America?). His work here includes one gesture that I hate: forcing the actors not in the present scene to sit impassively at the edge of the stage in plain sight. It’s always a pleasure to see Deirdre O’Connell. Eboni Booth is a fresh new face. Bobby Moreno makes his “nice guy” role believable. Frederick Weller’s mannerisms annoyed me less than usual. With more work, the play might have amounted to something better. As is, it’s a missed opportunity. I very much doubt that the playwright knew where he was headed when he began. Running time: one hour 25 minutes; no intermission.

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