‘Job’ returns: better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven?

Comedy doesn’t get much blacker than “Job,” the play by Thomas Bradshaw that re-tells the biblical story of God’s harsh test of one devout man.

The play was a big hit at The Flea Theater last fall and has just reopened for the month of January. “Job” runs only a little over an hour, but it has more of a punch than most theater works twice as long. It was one of the strongest plays I saw last year. 

“Job” is packed with laughs but it also contains acts of shocking violence that are sometimes hard to bear in the snug downstairs space at the White Street venue.

God is a rather whimsical figure in Bradshaw’s version of the Judeo-Christian universe. We see him in Heaven (presumably) with his rowdy sons Jesus and Dionysus, humoring his brother Satan, when the devil incarnate suggests that human beings might not worship God as much as they say they do.

But look at Job!, God protests.

Yeah, but he has had a rich and comfy life so far, Satan argues. How would he react if things were not so lush?

God agrees to a few “tests” by Satan that quickly spiral out of control. Murder, rape and necrophilia destroy Job’s family, and he is beset by two beggars who blind and castrate him (all of this is depicted with obvious theatrical “illusion” that nevertheless is more disturbing than any R-rated movie representations of the same acts).

“Job” is a valid thesis play examining one of the central questions of religious faith — If there is a God, how do you explain most of the horrors of life on Earth?

The play has been staged simply, but with great force by Flea resident director Benjamin Kamine and the ensemble is made up of members of The Bats, the terrific young company of actors that the theater pulls together every season. The “Job” company consists of: Bradley Anderson, Mimi Augustin, Jaspal Binning, Ugo Chukwu, Alex Coelho, Timothy Craig, Jimmy Dailey, Edgar Eguia, Eric Folks, Cleo Gray, Grant Harrison, Layla Khosnoudi, Adam Lebowitz-Lockard, Abraham Makany, Sean McIntyre, Chester Poon, Ivano Pulito, Marie-Claire Roussel, Stephen Stout and Jennifer Tsay.

The consistent quality of The Bats’ work shows that artistic director Jim Simpson has one of the best eyes for talent in New York. These young actors rise to the challenge of some very extreme dramatic situations in “Job.”

Thomas Bradshaw is a true provocateur — people are still buzzing about his play “Burning” which divided audiences off-Broadway last season — but he is taking big chances in a New York theater scene that is often much too cautious.

For ticket information, visit www.theflea.org

Joe Meyers