Don’t Assume: The Position

10. February, 2010 Theater 1 comment

Seventeenth show of 2010: The Position, PianoFight, February 7.

Jessica Cortese and the cast of The Position.

It’s boom times for local playwright William Bivins, who’s suddenly enjoying a flurry of productions all over town: last fall Virago Theatre Company produced his The Afterlife of the Mind in Berkeley and San Francisco, while PianoFight Productions staged Pulp Scripture, his award-winning hit from last summer’s SF Fringe Festival. His play The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry will be given a bare-bones production by SF Playhouse on its second stage in May as part of its nascent new works series, “the Sandbox.” In the meantime PianoFight is premiering The Position, Bivins’s new play in which work is considerably scarcer than it’s been for the playwright of late.

Like Daniel Heath’s choose-your-own-adventure sex comedy Fork Off on Your Own Forking Adventure Which You’ve Forked: Forking! last year,  The Position‘s slot in the season came out of PianoFight’s summer short play competition of local playwrights, ShortLived, where low-ranking plays are weeded out and the most popular playwright at the end of the three-month process wins a one-month PianoFight run of a full-length play. The process will start all over again with ShortLived 3.0 this April through June.

The Position is the show that fills the assured slot, although in the intervening months PianoFight wound up producing another Bivins play. The PianoFight run of Pulp Scripture over the holidays was directed by Christy Crowley, an actor in the piece from its SF Fringe beginnings who’s also been involved with PianoFight since 2008 and directed Bivins’s winning short in last summer’s ShortLived. Crowley also directs The Position, a solid production of a straightforward Twilight Zone premise, with a touch of Survivor. (The reality show, not the band, although that would be awesome.)

In a seemingly near future where society has largely collapsed, with staggering unemployment and scarcity of resources, six finalists compete for an unknown job at the Concern, a mysterious organization with seemingly limitless resources. Each known only by a Greek letter, the six are under constant surveillance as they try to pool their resources and outmaneuver each other without knowing what qualities the Concern is looking for in a candidate. They’re told that they were selected out of thousands of applicants, and it’s implied that only one of them can get the job, but really they don’t even know that. As the deadpan overseer of the application process, Mrs. Radcliffe, tells them, they can’t make any assumptions about the position.

This is all played out in the clinical confines of a black-and-white set: white furniture and plain white canvasses on black walls. The candidates’ clothes are all shades of gray, each with a small piece of light blue—the same light blue that the employees of the Concern wear.

Jessica Cortese plays Mrs. Radcliffe with impenetrable nonchalance that borders on contempt, and Evan Winchester is amusingly creepy as the perversely accommodating (or accommodatingly perverse) indentured houseservant Baylian.

Dan Williams turns on the smarm as Beta, a former bible salesman who fancies himself a natural leader. Laura Zimmerman radiates warmth and charm as Zeta, who clings to an optimistic view of human nature even as she uses her sexuality as a bargaining chip. Gabi Patacsil is a bit of a shrinking violet as Eta, Kate Jones is increasingly high-strung as straight-laced Gamma, and Asher Lyons is amusingly way-out as cynical hippie Delta. Most interesting is Eric Reid’s understated Epsilon, a cool-headed strategist who prefers to hang back and observe, then play the others against each other.

What exactly happened to the world outside is almost as mysterious as what the Concern is up to, but we’re told just enough about it to set up the scenario without getting bogged down in futuristic details. That air of uncertainly and suspense is sustained until the end, in fact, with few if any questioned answered. It’s mostly a matter of seeing how things play out between the candidates in what seems very much like a social experiment. The way things unfold and unravel is indeed entertaining to watch, with plenty of dark humor and a dash of sex and violence along the way. What you take from it otherwise is left wide open to interpretation. Much like the position itself in the play, The Position is “a set of protocols—nothing more, nothing less.”

The Position is open through February 28 at Off-Market Theaters, 965 Mission St., San Francisco.

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  1. Alison Fuller

    2 / 11 / 2010 10:21 pm

    I found “The Position” totally engaging from beginning to end. The characters are believable and well developed through a plot that maintains tension and suspense until the final line. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the theater.





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