Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a dress rehearsal for The Bull, PW’s newest production. Because the cast is so small (only four characters), it’s hard not to get invested in each character. Thomas is despised and bullied by his colleagues. He is a pathetic victim, played masterfully by Jason Roth ’17. Next is Isobel, played by Marli Scharlin ’16, the “brilliant and lythe” (her own words) executive whose true abilities lie in her ability to tear others down. We loathe Isobel but cannot help but be fascinated by her. There is also Tony, the “team leader” of the sales office. His domineering and sensual presence is indisputable; Keston McMillan ’17 is very well suited for this role. The final character to be introduced is Carter, their boss. Although she is not on stage very long, Jenn Maley ’16 deftly portrays this sneering, cold hearted bureaucrat. I was genuinely afraid.
Here are 10 of my takeaways from The Bull:
1.The intimacy of Upspace
This performance space has redefined my notion of an intimate show setting. The black box theater is tiny, and the seats are set equal to the stage, forcing us to be engaged in the unwinding drama. Let me reiterate, this intimacy is no peck from your grandmother. It is full-frontal, inescapable, in-your-face closeness. This show does not allow for checking of phones or bathroom breaks.
2. Importance of repetition
The Bull loves patterns. The play opens with two characters on stage and ends with the pair in an identical position. In this same thread, certain words and insults are repeated throughout the show. When Isobel tells the audience she revels in “poking and poking and poking and poking and poking” we can’t help but feel revolted.
3. Power dynamics
As mentioned above, the play begins with just two people on stage. Immediately, the blocking of Isobel and Thomas establishes the nature of their relationship. Isobel dominates the stage, exuding sexual prowess and leering at her weak counterpart. Throughout the show, these power dynamics never completely shift, but they do evolve. With the introduction of new characters, the hatred escalates. The cruelty is barely established as 1 vs. 1, before it becomes 2 vs. 1, until finally the score is settled at 3 vs. 1.