In the well of understanding

In the well of understanding

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Position: Hope Meets Despair

You are invited to submit an application for a heady but mysterious position with the cryptic corporation known as the Concern. Against a backdrop of economic and societal collapse, the very underpinning pillars of country and kin obliterated in the Great Downturn, the Concern offers a sirenic sinecure to a select individual from amongst the hordes of multitudinous candidates. If chosen as a finalist you will be conveyed to the Compound where the irrevocable evaluation will ensue with unknowable nuances, and you may be elect enough to ascend the pinnacle, master the tasks and be saved from the ravages of an uncertain future in the chaos from which you have emerged. Such begins the play The Position currently running at the Off-Market Theatre in San Francisco.

The next layer is the shedding of singularity and identity, a stripping of the epidermis which the applicants have borne for the totality of their existence to this point. Exuvation of clothing initiates, followed closely thereafter by the imposition of an alphabetical assignment displacing given names. This reduction to bare essentials, decoction of former selfness, is reflected in the minimalism of the stage sets and heightens the emotional intensity of all subsequent action; and the scantiness has the opposite effect of making something which appears at first blush to be insubstantial - inconsequential props, threadbare dress, the controlled tension of the players - in reality immeasurably significant, transforming nugatory elements to quintessential portions of the play’s bodily composition. There is profound depth beneath the skin and it rapidly reveals itself.

The panoply of personages fuels the furnace of the transpiring events. A Faustian HR Consultant is the puppet-mistress (Lady MacBeth, did you say?) who dangles the fatalistic carrot before starving supplicants who have come to prostrate themselves in hope of the saving grace of the Concern. She advises them to make no assumptions and invites them to engage in whatever behaviors they deem fit, to give vent to passions and emotions as if on a stranded, paradisiacal island. One cannot help but summon up the ghost of Lord of the Flies in an updated adult version. All the applicants are aware of is that they are being surveilled. Will their commitment be questioned, their worthiness judged and found wanting? Hope is inglorious, not the thing which “perches in the soul” but the awl used to rip out your eyes and steal vision: hope wielded as a sword of despair over the benighted and benumbed reeling from the abandonment of government and left to the manipulative intrigues of corporations. This vacuum creates the perfect tableau for the welling up of all the baseness of human nature, and these newly minted children of the alphabet meld into their milieu with rage and savagery which ever lurks in the heart of our darkness.

The Position provides an excellent exposition on what happens when the boat is only big enough for a few. The actors are crisp, polished and focused; the direction is unrelenting and the story so compelling that you are inexorably drawn in and almost forget to breathe as the contestants vie, each in their own way, for the shining medallion. As with London’s People of the Abyss and The Iron Heel, the characters possess a freshness which means any of them could be your neighbors, your friends or family, and are equally crushed under the weight of their devastation and ambition. Yet surprise remains in play. Even the Concern cannot anticipate everything which may occur; and where there is frailty in human nature there is also adamantine strength. In the end, one comes to know that the meat factory is constantly in motion, the gears always ready to grind fresh meat and make ubiquitous burgers which we readily consume as we ourselves are being consumed.

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