“Job,” a tight, 80-minute play by Max Wolf Friedlich, is filled with so many ideas that it seems to expand beyond the walls of the tiny SoHo Playhouse where it opened this week. But claustrophobia sets in as, throughout one session, a young patient and an older hippie crisis therapist confront the turbulence of life in the belly of the cyber-beast.
As the play opens, the therapist, Loyd (Peter Friedman), is trying to soothe the agitated Jane (Sydney Lemmon), who is pointing a gun at his head. Stress has gotten the better of her, culminating in a smartphone-era calamity: A video of her breakdown at work went viral. No longer feeling safe and still clearly unwell, Jane nevertheless has an industrial-grade resolve to return to her job at a Bay Area tech behemoth. This psychological evaluation will determine if that’s possible.
Loyd, quietly pleased by his reputation for handling lost-cause cases, begins to tease out her anxieties, but soon finds Jane’s preoccupations with the many kinds of violence committed worldwide a tough web to untangle — and to distance himself from.
As Jane, Lemmon captures the frenetic essence of a person overwhelmed, and ultimately paralyzed, by all the live-streamed killings playing repeatedly across a seemingly indifferent internet. Though a victim of her industry’s grind mentality, Jane doesn’t come off as a martyr: Her acid-tongued clapbacks and finger-pointing hardly feel excusable.
Lemmon searingly personifies her character’s contradictions on her own, yet the production, nimbly directed by Michael Herwitz, also dips into her overstimulated psyche, as when computer clicks trigger rapid successions of TikTok-like sensory overload, with Jessie Char and Maxwell Neely-Cohen’s sound design blasting cacophonous drilling noises and porn sounds.
Though Friedman’s character is the more passive one, he imbues Loyd’s counterarguments with a genuine passion — intensely talking with Jane about our uneasy relationships to social justice, family, personal fulfillment and trauma in the cyber age.
As they unveil more about themselves, a late revelation nearly undoes the play by flattening the open-ended ethical questions it had so appealingly been posing. The play has to wrap up somehow, but this abrupt shift lands us in an entirely different genre.
Friedlich’s clever updating of the generational-divide format is not undermined by the play’s thematic vastness. And it’s refreshing to see characters who are not afraid of their intellect, or feel the need to condescend by slowing down their high-speed streams of life-or-death consciousness.
Through Oct. 15 at SoHo Playhouse, Manhattan; sohoplayhouse.com. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.