There is something incredibly uncomfortable going on in the small New York City Center Stage II theatre, and I mean that in the greatest of compliments. No matter how intimate the dialogue or how fundamentally nonsensical it appears, the series of two character scenes that make up the devastating Fulfillment Center as written by Abe Koogler, never seem to garner any type of closeness. In moments that should feel romantic or connected, the characters stand epically far apart on that long runway of a stage (scenic design: Andrew Lieberman; costume: Asta Bennie Hostetter; lighting: Pat Collins; sound: Ryan Rumery). Even when the pair are physically side by side, they never can quite cross the divide that deepens between them. As directed by Daniel Aukin (MTC’s Fool for Love), it’s tragic and surprisingly engrossing as we watch these four fine actors strive but rarely meet. They flounder in their own questionable choices and roadways that have brought all of them to this desolate town in New Mexico. And here, in that desert wasteland, they engage and disengage; passively, aggressively, cruelly, kindly, and sadly.
One young man, Alex (Bobby Moreno) has relocated for a management job at the Fulfillment Center. Something akin to an Amazon warehouse where people run around grabbing items to fill orders that are meant to fulfill dreams. His college sweetheart, Madeleine (a strong and layered Edoni Booth) has followed from New York City to be with him, while pushing him away. Lost and alone, her desperation can’t seem to be quenched. The older Suzan (the utterly spectacular Deirdre O’Connell) is on the run from a failed relationship. She finds herself trapped in New Mexico with a broken down car living in a tent at a trailer park. The weathered handsome loner, John, (an epic and detailed portrayal by Frederick Weller) has been kicked out from his girlfriend’s home, and settled into a life living in his car. There is something strangely menacing in his detached awkwardness, but wonderfully we are just left to be curious about it. No explanation given. The collision that brings all four of these complex characters together, in alternating pairings, is wrought from deeply emotional scenarios, that resonate in a charming but melancholy manner. It is unique, funny, and disturbing. Much is left unsaid or unexplained, but the need and the reactive push-back is clear.
The first scene is the set up for all to follow. It tells you everything you need to know moving forward. Beautifully crafted by all involved, The ‘Fulfillment Center’ is everything that it can’t be. There is no salvation to be found here. No joy and definitely no fulfillment. Alex, achingly portrayed by the talented Moreno (NYTW’s Lazarus) when reading the employee manual rules, can barely force the words out of his mouth, knowing somewhere deep down that they are a lie. In a glaringly obvious sign that he is ill-equipped for this job, he hires the desperate but totally unfit Suzan as one of the packers. His brain almost has a melt-down as he instructs her on her new job and what the Fulfillment Center’s goals are. She, in her caring hippy manner, tries to sooth him with touch. Helping him, against his will, to release the stress that is building within. If there is one moment of connection in this whole sad tale, it is this. A pause button has been pushed, but it is fleeting, and followed quickly by discomfort. No matter how hard these people try, they will not be able to fulfill the employee manual goals in their own private lives.
My guess is that each audience member will find connection with one of these four characters on some deep and emotional plane. My companion ached for Suzan who describes herself, with a sad desperation, as someone who ‘once was beautiful’. She has made bad decisions time and time again, and now finds herself scared and desperate in the New Mexico desert. O’Connell (MTC’s By the Water) does an amazing job giving us the layers of the complicated Suzan. She is the afraid and needy child living inside an aging hippy-girl frame, with a bad back and a sore knee. Wishing that love and affection will save her from all the predicaments she slides herself into. The ending is a bleak and desolate surrender to where we find ourselves and what we can have. There is a raging hunger for connection but a loss of fulfillment. And in that framework, we find the glory of the Fulfillment Center.
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