Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: Fully Fulfilled

Striving to live a fulfilling life is unique to each individual. How you reach that point of fulfillment may be by your own doing or guided and maybe by a little bit of luck or karma. But what exactly is this karma? In Thomas Bradshaw's richly captivating and fearless Fulfillment, a man battles personal morality in a high stress environment on a journey to self-completion.
Michael is on the verge of forty working as an associate at a high tier law firm. He has a cute girlfriend, a new apartment, but it's not enough. After being provoked to question why, after nine years, he hasn't been named a partner, Michael learns some truths that leads to his life spiraling out of control. Was it his own doing or the surroundings that caused his downfall? Fulfillment is a powerful new dark comedy that keeps you engaged from start to finish. Bradshaw is unafraid in his writing, provoking you whether you're prepared or not. With provocative language and themes, Bradshaw boldly goes for the jugular. Bradshaw structures his piece quite well. The action is quick and precise. He rarely offers any fluff. For the most part, the key elements to the story are presented cleanly. The only blindside was the alcoholism reveal. Until his boss states Michael's alcohol problem is part of the promotion issues, we had only seen him drink sake. Incorporating another moment or two would allow the reveal to happen naturally. The characters Bradshaw has molded are quite strong and multidimensional. They each battle their own morality that, when contrasting, cause great conflict. Bradshaw layers his script with themes of karma, ethics, sex, addiction, and well, fulfillment but one of the most dynamic is his approach on class. The characters in Fulfillment live in a high-class world. Their cutthroat nature stems not from determination but from entitlement. The majority of the characters disregard consequences believing their actions are their privilege. They say things that many couldn't get away with. From rumors to lies, their words had little barring to consequences.
photo by Hunter Canning
While Michael may have been the centerpiece of the story, this surely was an ensemble effort. As Michael, Gbenga Akinnagbe gave a sensational performance. Akinnagbe had a contained 21st century Patrick Bateman vibe to him. While he may have lost himself in his downward spiral, it was believable. With a fight in his eyes, you wanted him to be victorious knowing the surrounding situations. As the nerdy but fiery girlfriend Sarah, Susannah Flood served a bit of good and evil. Blending a good girl exterior with a secretive bad girl, persuasive persona allowed for a dynamic performance from Flood. Jeff Biehl stole the show as the neighbor from hell. He had a natural comedic aura to his performance but when you picked up on the uniquely clever love folly work by Biehl highlighted on a perch, you couldn't help but watch him in action.
What sets this production apart is the brilliant vision of director Ethan McSweeny and his wildly creative design team. Cohesive is an understatement. McSweeny exceeded the limits of speed in his sharply choreographed and well managed world. The ensemble worked as one keeping the transitions tight and resourceful. The soundscape by Mikhail Fiksel and Miles Polaski was fascinating. With a jazz infused drum constantly playing a key role in the underscoring, it rarely felt like a distraction. McSweeny was greatly aided by the astonishing lighting and scenic design by Brian Sidney Bembridge. Using a layout that replicated the downstairs space of The Flea, Bembridge, used the long layout to his advantage, capturing sharp angles and crisp lighting. Bembrdige smartly incorporated the props onto the set, allowing them to be swiftly appear in the scenes, yet cleanly stow away on the shelves. To hammer in the importance of social class, the set was very chic marrying grey, white, and wood, in every element of the set. When color was incorporated, it was integral to the story. Like the orange carpet and the red silk sheets. And speaking of the sheets, the only large question that Fulfillment begs is the importance and necessity of sex and nudity on stage. Often audiences are required to use their imaginations. McSweeny and Bradshaw eliminate imagination, presenting it all. You have to give incredible credit to sex choreographer Yehuda Duenyas for making it real. But it begs the question, can the story still exist without the vivid images? Or is shock value more important? Did we need to see full frontal Michael stand on the bed for a strong moment before answering the pounding door?
Being fearless and taking risks in theater nowadays sadly seems rare. But Thomas Bradshaw and Ethan McSweeny were unafraid. And thankfully, it paid off for them. Fulfillment is a fulfilling production that that highlights the power of a strong vision.