Workshop Presented by The Wilbury Theatre Group
Written by Mark Binder
Directed by Brien Lang
Original Music by Nikita Zabinski
Stage Management by Shoshana Adler
December 4 & 6, 2020
Live on Zoom
Review by Gillian Daniels
ZOOM — Have you ever had the wild urge to play a first-person shooter and hefting a gun that ends the lives of digital characters? No? What about being granted the power to give or take away their livelihood? With The Race, a piece workshopped earlier this month by The Wilbury Theatre Group, you’re given almost all the abilities of a faceless tribunal to do just that! It’s an engaging work of theater constructed to utilize Zoom. It’s also difficult, upsetting, and timely.
Joseph White (Rodney Eric López) and Joseph Black (Jim O’Brien) are competing for the same job. Awkwardly, either by glitch or design, they’re also in a group interview together. I speak from personal experience when I say this method of interviewing is absolutely horrible and mostly just shows that said employers are lazy if not outright sadistic. And doing this all online with the looming spectre of technical difficulties? Wow. Welcome to a world of cringe!
The characters are largely defined in opposition to each other. White, we learn, is waiting for American citizenship, juggling child care, and struggling financially. Black lives affluently in Newton and admits to living a relatively smooth life. They are monitored by Jennifer Mischley, who turns in a chilling performance as a computer and/or corporate stooge with potentially sinister intent.
So, what business are they interviewing for? Per the vague description in the opening slide, they’re both scrambling to be a part of “The Acme Corporation” which “is a global organization. We represent people and products from every corner of the world. You are a key component to our success. ” It’s only missing key words like “synergy,” “impact,” and “return on investment.” The introduction music and affectless narration hammers home the idea of a heartless, corporate hellscape bolstered by our current capitalist nightmare. Also, in grand sci-fi tradition, it shows the difficulties of automation.
The night I attended, O’Brien gave a hesitant, sometimes halting performance. López was confident in depicting the slow-boiling, understandable frustration that comes with the interview process. Their characters are flayed open with questions, asked about their willingness to act as “whistleblowers,” their comfort regarding race and discrimination, and their sexual histories.
The play has the feel of a painful, dual character study. The uncomfortable intimacy of their interview paired with growing suspense makes for a riveting experience. The Race ratchets up its tension until the finale, which, fittingly for a piece being workshopped, feels unfinished. I look forward to Mark Binder’s final work and hope it maintains the same sense of fear and mystery.
Throughout the performance, the audience is sent survey questions, some more random than others. The interactivity makes an already intense show more intimate, an aspect of virtual theater that has been difficult to replicate online. Soulless businesses are well-tread territory in various media, but the medium here makes this feel unique.
Also, I appreciate a story that explicitly uses a tool designed for the cultivation of corporate culture to critique it. The platform of Zoom, which wields unfathomable power during this pandemic, has been enormously useful and, yet, as The Race shows, part of a much larger, more disturbing Orwellian picture. For that alone, I applaud the innovation of the Wilbury Theatre Group. In the words of our CEO overlords, it was likely accomplished with a great deal of synergy.