Fulfillment by the always surprising Thomas Bradshaw is about anything but the contentment and success implied by its ironic title. The Flea Theater’s production, directed to emphasize its undercurrents of eroticism and anger by Ethan McSweeny, is both shocking and sad. The audience witnesses the almost classically Greek downfall of a man done in by his own weaknesses. Anger, lust, pride and greed does in the central character.
Fulfillment is the story of Michael (Gbenga Akinnagbe), a senior associate at a law firm headed by Mark (Peter McCabe). Michael wants to be a partner and confides this to his co-worker, Sarah (Susannah Flood), with whom he has recently had a kinky sexual encounter. She, Iago-like, brings up the specter of racial and, in her case, gender discrimination, setting in motion elements of the plot.
He confides his lustful tryst with Sarah to his best friend Simon (Christian Conn), a married man who lives vicariously through Michael’s arousing adventures, that is, until vicarious becomes reality when Simon becomes one of many who betray Michael.
Michael is first seen touring an expensive, but not very large, condominium which he cannot afford. The real estate agent (a very funny Denny Dillon who plays two other roles that could be male or female, a very tolerant waiter and the not so tolerant condo board president, Bob), goes on and on about the many virtues of this over-priced pad. Although the place is beyond his budget—Michael is overheard begging for money from his mother—he winds up buying it.
He also starts a full out affair with Sarah who decides to reform the alcoholic Michael. Part of this involves attending AA but also includes sessions with a New Age yoga guru, the all-knowing, all-seeing Leonard (Jeff Biehl, also playing Michael’s annoying upstairs neighbor, Ted) who inadvertently stimulates un-ease in Michael and Sarah’s relationship.
Soon Michael begins to crack as his emotions and self-doubts manifest themselves in cruel outbursts, lashing out at all the wrong people: the waiter, Sarah, and his boss Mark. He begins to feud with his upstairs neighbor whose child he thinks makes too much noise. His sexual addiction, combining with a return to drinking and drug use, builds to a darkly disturbing climax.
By the end of Fulfillment, virtually everyone has betrayed Michael for one reason or another. But, it is Michael who is his own worst enemy. Whether he gets what he deserves is up to the audience to decide.
On the way to the dark ending there is much nudity and explicit sex which is both stimulating and off-putting. The intimate Flea space brings the audience virtually into the beds of the copulating couples.
The acting throughout was outstanding, so much so that it was often difficult to watch the action without wincing and turning away. In addition to the above-mentioned cast there was Otoja Abit who played Delroy, a superstar athlete and perspective client of the law firm who is wooed, unsuccessfully, by Michael. Mr. Abit created a three-dimensional character in his short, but pivotal scenes.
The scenery by Brian Sidney Bembridge (who also designed the brilliant lighting), was grey with angular shelving units and lots of furniture toted about by the cast. It served the play well as did the well-observed costumes by Andrea Lauer. The very professional talents of fight choreographer J. David Brimmer and sex choreographer (!) Yehuda Duenyas were well represented in this unnerving morality play.
Fulfillment (through October 19, 2015)
The Flea Theater, 41 White Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.theflea.org
Running time: one hour 30 minutes, no intermission