There is a terrorist fueled explosion at the Zincorp building. People have died and the FBI is questioning one man in a bar who may have seen or heard something. “If you see something, say something,” is the motto in NYC and all major cities globally since 911. Robert Pimm (the quixotic and darkly insinuating Mac Brydon), sits at the bar holding his head and mopping his bloody brow with a white handkerchief. He has been injured in the blast. Lead FBI Agent Staats (direct, opaque, and incisive Daniel Morgan Shelley), asks his initial questions of Pimm while bartender and owner Jim (Brad Fryman is superb with his humorous dexterity as the frank and obverse voice of conscience), watches the proceedings with Staats’ assistant, Agent Charles (Patrick Hamilton). Thus opens Pimm’s Mission.
This moment to moment, vibrant production directed by Terrence O’Brien emphasizes a truism that all of us have become frighteningly aware of. We are vulnerable to inimical and wicked forces, and there really isn’t much we can do about our violability. We can only try to avoid danger as best we can and move from one day to the next without doing harm to ourselves and others. And in that, perhaps, we will be able to live our lives making our peace with ourselves, family, and friends. But if there is an earth-shattering blast that sweeps us up, then what? The nature of such blasts, whether they be material or psychological, is the main focus of Christopher Stetson Boal’s play which opens with a material explosion. Rumblings and shatterings pierce our ears as lights rise on the well appointed, liquor stocked bar which is the setting throughout Stetson Boal’s riveting play. But it is the psychological implosions which prove to be the final, fatal flaws that create havoc and result in death and destruction long after the material explosion is over.
Though the initial explosion rattles us, in the aftermath we believe we are experiencing the quiet of resolution as the agents attempt to “get to the bottom” of the attack by nailing the perp and diving his motives for violence and terror. However, the playwright allows no peace to settle; there is only his hacking away and provoking our emotional unease and fear; he forces us to recognize awful truths about Machiavellian influencers, human greed, human need, and indefensible attempts to right terrible wrongs. As the playwright spins his characters through their personal life revelations, we note that the play is a series of colliding moments. The action shifts from the present with the agents questioning Pimm to a series of flashbacks. The flashbacks are scenes from the past when Pimm had vital conversations with Thomas Blander (Ryan Tramont is absolutely believable as the mild-mannered, emotional, deeply human, and very real bar friend of Robert Pimm).
As a spur to the action, just before the agents are about to leave off questioning because Pimm has deftly averted all their probes, Jim laconically mentions “Thomas” and the extensive meet-ups Pimm has had with his friend over the past year. Agent Staats realizes his intuition is correct; Pimm is hiding something and the questions begin all over again. Stetson Boal has seamlessly created the foundation for suspense. And as he moves us from past to present to past, our need to understand the truth of the whys of this whodunit becomes the loci of action. What is particularly intriguing are the undercurrents among Pimm, Jim, and Agent Staats in the present, and Thomas and Pimm in the past. All evoke revelatory threads about human wiles and specifically, the male ego. The playwright unravels these into a stark conclusion of dark truth; the impact is powerful and resonates with trending social and cultural issues we are all too troubled about today.
The episodic through line with Agent Staats questioning Pimm is parsed with the conversations between Thomas Blander and Robert Pimm from their point of initial meeting to the conclusion of their relationship, which comes round full circle into the present with the final, displacing reveal. The scenes where Robert Pimm and Thomas Blander talk about their lives add crucial arcs to the mystery of what happened and are masterful constructs within themselves. We come to understand how these men are driven by their own will, their weaknesses, their need to aspire, and their hope to inspire others and be accountable for goodness in the world. With each encounter Thomas has with Robert, Thomas’ psychological walls of restraint implode; it is a spiritual, psychological explosion and from the rubble, Thomas’ new personality emerges. It is a dynamic, life-giving, and solidly grounded development.
This is very clever writing by Stetson Boal teased out with adroit direction by Terrence O’Brien and near flawless acting by the ensemble. All combine to soulfully lure us to understand and deeply empathize with Thomas’ personal growth. We are thrilled to see his evolution which Pimm has nurtured and cultivated. Yet, the theme implied by Agent Staats in the beginning of the play echoes throughout: there is “something not quite right” in the benign rightness of it all. There is a misty cloud of darkness that we cannot quite pierce. Actors Brydon and Tramont are superb in their conversational dance of wills and infusions of Pimm as “Ted Talk” mentor and Thomas as avid pupil who is changing and coming out of his “purposeless shell” to “man up” and “find his mission.”
Clearly, we approve that Thomas is following in the footsteps of his teacher: Pimm has found his mission and is working it daily. Thomas feels the urgency of finding his mission; the playwright strikes a chord in us that we all need to find “our mission.” Thus, when Pimm “blasts” away at Thomas’ psyche with apparent wisdom, when he encourages and inspires him every step of the way, we appreciate this. It is a “good thing” that Pimm is spurring Thomas on to advocacy against the pharmaceutical company, Thomas’ employer, which Thomas has discovered is involved in a nefarious plan with their new drug.
The material explosion at the outset of the play has ended in destruction and death. That explosion reverberates throughout Pimm’s Mission and leads to the final explosion at the play’s ending which is equally devastating and which will also result in death. But the final blast is unseen and silent and the agents will not be able to discern it unless they are tipped off. For us it is a shocking explosive irony and the truth of the events, the playwright has well hidden. A most incredible irony is that after we glean the facts of the reveal, why are we not surprised? This willingness to accept what occurred, why it occurred and what will occur is perhaps the real terror. For the themes inherent in the play’s ending remind us of the extent of human deceitfulness and wickedness of heart.
What’s worse is that the agents are no closer to divining the identity of the terrorist and his motives. Thus, is it a privilege that we know that the mystery has been solved? For what happens next? It is a sardonic revelation. In his themes about human nature, Stetson Boal has whispered something we would rather not be aware of. He has made us stare at the vulnerability of playing the innocent. He has made us aware of the wickedness of burying our heads in the sand. He has reminded us of our oftentimes willing refusal to acknowledge that there are men and women in this world who, as unbelievable as it appears, have no conscience and have no problem with being dealers of death if they can effect this with impunity and lay the blame on someone else.
Pimm’s Mission from beginning to end will grip your emotions and intellect. The ensemble work, the direction, the theatrical elements appropriately cohere with the writing which is sharp, unexpected and devastating. This is a play for our time and its messages are not to be taken lightly. The must-see production presented by Oberon Theatre Ensemble will be running through August 16th at 59E59th Theaters.[amazon template=iframe image&asin= 0073514209]