The Wilma Theater is giving “Patience,” a much-praised Canadian play by Jason Sherman, a splendid, sleek U.S. premiere. It’s a far better production than this half-baked “Book of Job” knockoff deserves.
In a moment when the tragedy inherent in human life — the presence of evil, the injustice of undeserved suffering — are at the front of our collective consciousness, a play that cynically trashes our struggles with such ideas has much to answer for. Watching “Patience” requires much of it — it’s like reading an exasperatingly well-written but ill-conceived term paper for Epistemology 101.
Reuben is not a “perfect and upright man,” but a creep: a bully on the squash court, an embezzler at work, a father who ignores his children, a husband who cheats on his wife, a disloyal friend and a treacherous brother. When he is fired (with a handsome package as opposed to a prison sentence) and his wife leaves him (his children are not, like Job’s, killed, but merely living with his mother-in-law, a considerable distinction), he spends two hours asking, “Why me?”
Superficial conversations attempt to answer that question with explanations of the riddles of the universe through physics (the Uncertainty Principle, chaos theory) and a cartoon rabbi thrown in for amusement. This is an evasion of both the fundamental idea of the Book of Job and of the fundamental problem of the play, a man confronting his own ill-spent life.
Despite the script’s failures and self-indulgences, performances are all splendid. Especially fine is David Chandler, whose Reuben is a man so driven that, even weary on a sofa, he conveys relentless energy.
Blanka Zizka directs with fierce speed — past and present slide by on a slippery continuum and there is not a blank second or an unused portion of the glittering stage. The mirrored, multileveled set suits the action and the slick subject splendidly.