Max Wolf Friedlich wastes no time establishing the stakes — life or death — in Job, his taut and verbally lacerating two-person drama now making its world premiere at SoHo Playhouse. We know this from the moment the lights come up on Jane (Sydney Lemmon) pointing a gun at Loyd (Peter Friedman), the therapist meant to evaluate her mental fitness to return to work at a San Francisco tech firm. She’s been on extended leave following an in-office mental breakdown. An ambitious millennial who sees her job as her identity, Jane has little time to waste dredging up childhood trauma, so she opts for armed assault as a faster route to her objective. What follows is a hostage situation masquerading as a therapy session — an edge-of-your-seat watch made even better by the performances of the two actors.
Viewers of HBO’s Succession will recognize Friedman from his portrayal of Frank, Logan Roy’s chief confidant. On that show, Lemmon (granddaughter of the legendary actor Jack Lemmon) played the smaller role of Jennifer, an actress seduced into leaving her play to join Kendall Roy in Scotland. Here, they are equally matched in a dramatic duel that encapsulates many of the conflicts animating the American professional class: Boomers vs. Millennials, men vs. women, and evangelists of big tech disruption vs. everyone else.
As a member of the latter group, I was predisposed to dislike Jane, and her jittery gun-wielding reinforces that prejudice. It’s easy to conclude that she has been driven mad by the rigors of the meritocracy and a life lived in the darkest recesses of the Internet. The job she so desperately wants back is in content moderation, and her zeal for blocking and reporting violent, sexually perverse videos elevates her to the role of a crusader, daily confronting the forces of evil in the realm where we now spend an inordinate amount of our time.
Lemmon does nothing to apologize for her character, maintaining a nervously combative posture throughout the 80 minutes of the play. This repels us from Jane, a walking, breathing outrage meme — even as her trenchant lines force us to consider that she might have a point.
When Loyd suggests that Jane’s smartphone use could be contributing to her anxiety, she retorts, “Why are Boomers so upset about us using technology when they’re the ones getting rich off of it?” Her disdain for Boomer shareholders extends to Boomer homeowners, whose NIMBYism has created the housing shortage so often blamed on tech workers. She seethes, “Hippies were white kids from the suburbs who came out here to take drugs and fuck with impunity and now they’re pissed something productive is replacing their 50-year-long drum circle.” Lemmon delivers every line for maximum sting, so the people in the back row can feel it.
But Friedman’s Loyd hits back with equal vigor. “You have to form a binary opinion of everyone and everything because you’re desperate for any semblance of control,” he tells her. “You don’t know yourself and so you can’t accept the idea that anyone else might.” Appearing like a cuddlier George Carlin, Friedman easily embodies the Bay Area hippie in winter, his soft-spoken demeanor and steady gaze a reassuring contrast with Jane’s manic paranoia. A leader in his field, he (like so many of our politicians) is convinced that no one can do the job as well as he can. He has that in common with Jane, and we quickly realize that they’re both suffering from messiah complexes.
There’s little slack in Michael Herwitz’s staging, every inflection and glance charged with intrigue. Costume designer Michelle J. Li cleverly accentuates Lemmon’s natural intensity by adorning her in a crop-top that seems to be suffering from an identity crisis (Is it a polo shirt? Is it a sweater? Does the multicolor pattern on the left clash with the multicolor pattern on the right? Yes, yes, and yes). Scott Penner’s simple but effective set conveys the comfortable yet scrupulously professional vibe of Loyd’s office, a crown molding caging the two actors like an MMA ring. The lights (by Mextly Couzin) and sound (by Jessie Char and Maxwell Neely-Cohen) are the only elements allowed to disrupt this hermetically sealed chamber as little echoes of the ubiquitous Internet flood into the room, their significance only revealed at the very end.