I’ll be the first one to admit that I may not be totally objective when it comes to writer-director Kevin Doyle, considering that I was in a show of his earlier this summer. But I can say with certainty that I am a fan of his work. Doing a show with him is what led me to finally read his play, The Position, which NYTE published in Plays and Playwrights 2006. Kevin is an absurdist in the tradition of Ionesco and Vaclav Havel, two playwrights whose thematic and structural influences are all over his work: specific and sustained use of repetition, heightened physicality, an emphasis on both political and social issues, and a lot of humor. Another striking and important characteristic he shares with both authors is the ability to make the potentially esoteric absurdist genre accessible for general audiences without sacrificing any of its hallmarks. The Position is a perfect example of this.
Six men sit in the waiting room of a large corporation. They are all there for a job interview. Five of them look, sound, and act identical – a humorous but potent commentary on the soul-deadening uniformity of America’s cutthroat capitalist culture. The sixth one stands out like a sore thumb: his clothes are wrinkled, he looks disheveled, and he is frightened and unprepared. Welcome to The Position, in which Kevin slyly and gleefully skewers the unexamined conformity of modern life and asks the reader to look at how our creature comforts (and the values they subliminally instill in us) may not be as good for us as we think.
But this is absurdism, so this potentially heavy topic is tempered with “sight gags, physical comedy, and running jokes,” as The Boss points out in his introduction to PP06: “..the sensibility is much more contemporary, and so is the style, which brings in elements of New Vaudeville, postmodernism, and a substantial amount of really astute social satire.”
Amen, brother. Take, for instance, this exchange between the Second Man and the Sixth Man (none of the characters have actual names – just another way The Position emphasizes its main themes) in which Kevin underlines the polarities between the Sixth Man and everyone else in the play:
SIXTH MAN: What’s wrong with my tie?
SECOND MAN: I think you need to ask yourself the same question.
SIXTH MAN: I’m sorry I don’t understand.
SECOND MAN: Have you ever heard of a dry cleaner?
SIXTH MAN: I don’t understand the question.
SECOND MAN: Your clothes.
SIXTH MAN: What about them?
SECOND MAN: They look like you slept in them.
SIXTH MAN: How did you know?
SECOND MAN: You slept in your clothes?
SIXTH MAN: Are you psychic?
SECOND MAN: Why did you sleep in your clothes?
SIXTH MAN: So I could be on time.
SECOND MAN: Have you ever heard of an iron?
SIXTH MAN: The mineral?
Then there’s the Gesture Appendix at the back of the script, in which Kevin painstakingly outlines what he calls “a physical dialogue which communicates just as much as a verbal dialogue about the world of this waiting room…” Several of the men get a repertoire of 6-13 gestures each, to be done in sequence at specifically allotted times throughout the course of the play. The gestures include mundane things like, “Shakes left leg. Shakes right leg” (First Man), and later more outrageous stuff like, “Rises and performs the Robot Dance” (Third Man). All the while, Kevin maintains that the gestures “should remain quick and precise. No matter how outrageous, they are never truly acknowledged or discussed by the characters…”
All of this points to a confidence that is rare in young playwrights but that Kevin has in spades, as does The Position. This is a play that knows what it is, knows what it wants to be, and isn’t afraid of either. How else to describe a play that boldly opens with several pages of non-verbal stage directions for the actors to follow? That is unapologetically confident.
For more insight into Kevin and his ethos, check out this interview I did with him back in January, 2006. It reflects the kind of humor, thoughtfulness, and social fervency that can be found in his plays.