By Gary Murray

Starring Ian Ferguson, Alex Ross, Jeremy Schwartz and Natalie Young

Written by Mike Bartlett

Directed by Christine Vela

Running time 55 min

Selig Rating FULL PRICE


Imagine The Office, not the American version but the original British version.  Take out the silly and add in the vitriol.  That is the play Bull, a savage bit of workplace intrigue.

On a dangerous, snowy night thirty some-odd patrons braved the miserable weather to attend this new play by Mike Bartlett.  Bull is directed by Christine Vela and is part of the Elevator Project at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.  It is performed at the Wyle Trheatre-6th Floor from February 26th to March 14th.  

The stage is almost in the round, with minimal sets of a few modern curved benches and lighting suggesting the waiting room of a new office. 

Before the play starts, the audience is bombarded with nihilistic punk music, cutting and chopping into the airwaves.  The play takes place in England and everyone takes on an English accent.

Thomas (Ian Ferguson) enters.  He is the type of office drone that is in every office, someone who has little personality outside the confines of work.

There is a big presentation and Thomas needs support.  Eventually both Tony (Alex Ross) and Isobel (Natalie Young) enter.  Both mock the choice of suit by Thomas.  It is the beginning of his work downfall.

Both see weakness in Thomas and both attack him, verbally like bullies.  They use paranoia like a weapon.  Touching is more like an animal tasting its prey before devouring it. 

Bull is two strong willed against one weaker willed individual.  The two pursue like hyenas around a weakened prey.  Eventually the boss Carter (Jeremy Schwartz) appears.  He is the lion in this scenario, taking his own verbal pound of flesh. 

All in all, Bull is about the jungle that is the modern workplace and how it takes being strong to survive.  It is also a fascinating study on modern man in a modern setting and how we have seldom changed from our animal ancestors.

Ian Ferguson comes across as a David Brent from the British Office and the Joker from The Dark Knight.  He smirks and smiles with a charm that befriends his intentions to harm.  There is a manic glee in his eyes when he delivers cutting lines.

Natalie Young is a viper on the floor boards.  Her attack is meticulous, taking apart Thomas piece by piece.   It almost feels as if she is doing him a favor by berating the man.  In a sense, she is being cruel to be kind. 

Jeremy Schwartz roars on the stage and commands every moment he is on the center.  He has the smallest role but makes the most of it with an authoritative presence. 

Ian Ferguson is our every man.  He is the weak superego in this Sigmund Freud analysis of work as a structural model of the psyche.  In the end, we cannot root for him but pity his lack of ego or id. 

The play is directed by Christine Vela.  During this short work, she puts her actors through an emotion rollercoaster, never letting up on the affecting twists and turns.   One can understand why the play is so short; the audience could not take two hours of a work of this nature. 

Since the play is so short, after the work the entire cast come on stage and talks to the audience.  There is a discussion of how the audience reacted to each cast member and how each cast member prepared for their roles.  They fill in the blanks of both the production and the process.  It is almost like the commentary track on a DVD but where the audience can become a part of the conversation.

Kudos have to go to Lighting Designer Aaron Johansen and Artistic Director Alex Organ.  They take a minimal amount of props and light to create an entire world.  The suggestion of a larger existence give the play a common feel. 

Bull is not a play for everyone and some may find the entire exercise unsettling.  I found the work intriguing and a bit disquieting at the same time.  This is a play that will stay with the audience for a long time and raise much late night discussions from those who experience it.  This, in the end, is the point of art.  

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