By Abe Koogler; Directed by Daniel Aukin
Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 7.16.17
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 7.1.17
Deirdre O'Connell and Frederick Weller in Fulfillment Center. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
BOTTOM LINE: This new play about loneliness and desperation features brilliantly drawn characters played by four magnificent actors.
Fulfillment Center opens with a job interview, in which Suzan (Deirdre O’Connell) is asked to pick up six orange cones within a given time, but she is not permitted to run. This is a metaphor for the way playwright Abe Koogler views life. We all have a task to accomplish, but we’re obliged to complete it with ease and comfort. Performing under duress exposes our weakness and renders us ineffective. We are not allowed to wear our efforts on our sleeves. We are only permitted the life that comes naturally to us.
This metric is also applied to personal relationships. Our chemistry with each other must come naturally; a laborious relationship is the definition of an ill-matched couple. And so after Alex, the interviewer (Bobby Moreno) puts Suzan through the ringer, he goes home to Madeleine (Eboni Booth), his unhappy girlfriend, who has just relocated reluctantly from New York to New Mexico. To secure his relationship, Alex presents Madeleine with a ring, but his effort is off-putting to her. She feels he is rushing it.
Koogler’s play presents a world in which everyone is fighting tooth and nail to secure a stable life, while creating the illusion that that they can manage with resources to spare. Even Madeleine points out the potentially unhealthy drinking habits of others while obscuring her own alcoholism. Stability and security are fleeting. At one moment in the action, Alex and Madeleine agree to just go to lunch. That is the only security they can be sure of—the satisfaction of a delicious meal. After that, all bets are off.
Koogler’s play speaks volumes about the human condition. Its strength is in the four characters he draws with great depth and detail, each recognizable as human beings and as alive as the amazing actors that portray them. But the play’s weakness is in its structure. Koogler offers us frightened and desperate characters, and for ninety minutes we experience their terror with great clarity. But he offers no structure for their condition. His story lacks a beginning, middle and end. It’s just a continuous line that extends to infinity.
Set designer Andrew Lieberman might have picked up on that idea. His set is just a rectangular plane that would also extend to infinity if not for the limitation of the theatre’s walls. Director Daniel Aukin seems to be playing with this plane that extends forward into the nebulae, but why has he chosen to place the audience on both sides of it facing each other?
Koogler might claim that life appears to lack structure. We endure our terror, desperation and pain day in and day out until it just stops. I hear that, but lives do indeed have beginnings, middles and ends; being aware of that structure offers meaning and comfort. Koogler’s play captures the terror and pain of life, but obstinately refuses to offer us comfort. What makes Fulfillment Center a fulfilling evening is the actors. It’s ninety minutes of brilliant acting in a very intimate space. Life may fail to offer us redemption, but these actors work overtime to redeem this play.
(Fulfillment Center plays at New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, through July 16, 2017. The running time is ninety minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30; Wednesdays at 2:30 and 7:30; Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30; and Sundays at 2:30. No performance on July 4; special performances on Sunday, July 2 at 7:30 and Monday, July 3 at 7:30. Tickets are $30 and are available at manhattantheatreclub.com or by calling 212-581-1212.)
Fulfillment Center is by Abe Koogler. Directed by Daniel Aukin. Set Design is by Andrew Lieberman. Costume Design is by Ásta Bennie Hostetter. Lighting Design is by Pat Collins. Sound Design is by Ryan Rumery. Stage Manager is Kyle Gates.
The cast is Eboni Booth, Bobby Moreno, Deirdre O'Connell, and Frederick Weller.