In Thomas Bradshaw’s acerbic new play Fulfillment — now at the Flea in a crisp production by Ethan McSweeny — a successful lawyer struggles to find inner peace and external rewards. Michael (Gbenga Akinnagbe) is an ambitious workaholic with a luxury pad in Soho, but he has been waiting a little too long to make partner.
Is it possible he hasn’t been promoted because he’s black? (Maybe it’s because he’s an alcoholic. That’s what his patronizing boss says.) It’s hard to tell for sure, but the thought rankles. There are other troubling signs: He has inexplicably hostile neighbors, and friends who feel awfully entitled to judge his life choices.
With these seeds, Bradshaw sows a slew of troubles. Michael’s girlfriend goes from kind and supportive (with a side of hot and nasty) to duplicitous with a racist undercurrent. His dispute with a neighbor turns violently vengeful. And at work, things really go south.
Bradshaw’s modern-day Job story illustrates the covert racism endemic in elite circles: Instead of outright bigotry, there are inflated benchmarks, lip service paid to diversity, and toxic microaggressions. Racism hasn’t impeded Michael, exactly — but when he starts floundering, it’s the straw that breaks his back.
So what’s ultimately being fulfilled here? America’s age-old habit of destroying the black body. As Ta-Nehisi Coates put it recently, it’s a tradition.
By Thomas Bradshaw
The Flea Theater
41 White Street