By Richard Ades
Simon can’t quite bring himself to go to work. He just can’t shake the premonition that something bad is about to happen.
As it turns out, his premonition is correct. His boss is getting ready to “restructure” him out of the job to which he’s devoted more than 20 years of his life.
Thus begins The Promised Land, a comedy about a baby boomer’s worst nightmare.
The one-act is the latest work from local playwright Bill Cook. Like Cook’s 2012 offering Love in an Age of Clamor, this is the story of a middle-aged man facing a sudden loss. At age 55—too early to retire but too late to be attractive to many employers—the financial analyst finds himself back on the job market.
Also like Clamor, The Promised Land is devised as a “dream play,” meaning it’s a fast-moving chain of events that don’t always resemble reality. There’s a subtle difference, though. Clamor was more or less surreal throughout, but The Promised Land has isolated moments of surrealism that are explained away as dreams or even hallucinations. The rest of the time, it’s more like a hyperactive version of real life.
Personally, I found the earlier approach more entertaining, but that’s partly because I’m a fan of surrealists such as 20th century Spanish director Luis Buñuel. Viewers who are more down-to-earth may feel otherwise.
In any case, both of Cook’s works share a playful approach that incorporates a slew of lively supporting roles. In the current production, Jeff Horst portrays all of them and makes the most of the opportunity. For instance, he incorporates witty bits of business as a potential employer who appears in two very different states of being—as a shot-downing bar patron and as his morning-after counterpart, who gulps down coffee like it’s crucial to his survival.
Director Joe Bishara also encourages Josie Merkle to stretch her acting muscles as Simon’s wife, especially during a (possibly) hallucinogenic scene in which she takes a job as a cocktail waitress.
As Simon, Nick Baldasare projects the appropriate amounts of confusion, terror and determination. He makes the job seeker a fairly sympathetic figure even though Simon doesn’t always behave in ways that will be relatable to many viewers. In particular, he exhibits an outdated patriarchal attitude toward Grace, as when she seeks to boost the household income by taking a job.
Add an ending that doesn’t quite wrap things up, and you have a play that fails to reach its full potential as a parable of contemporary paranoia. Fortunately, none of this prevents the comedy from scoring as a showcase for its talented cast.
A&B Theatricals will present The Promised Land at 8 p.m. today and Saturday (March 29-30) at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Ave. in Downtown Columbus. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Tickets are $12, $8 for students. For reservations, visit brownpapertickets.com. For more information, visit ab-theatical.com.