Lucas Ward Adams & Leah Michelle Roberts in Bull.
By Mike Bartlett
Directed by Mike Brooks
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The Theatre  production of Mike Bartlett’s Bull that is part of the Slant Culture Theatre Festival is pure theatre: four people on a bare stage with only their skill as actors to realize the playwright’s intention. And some sharp business suits.
A survival-of-the-fittest sensibility defines the interplay of three junior executives waiting for a big meeting with the boss. As the play begins, Thomas (Lucas Ward Adams) is pacing nervously when Isobel (Leah Michelle Roberts) enters and within minutes has questioned his choice of suit. It is just the first of a merciless accumulation of poison darts designed to not just undermine, but destroy his confidence. She is soon joined by a colleague, Tony (Bryce Wiebe) and it is quickly evident that the two have joined forces in this effort. The trio know that the meeting is to determine which team member will be terminated. The childish absurdity of the methods employed provide much of the humor of the play, and chart the depths of cruelty such rising young corporate barracudas are capable of.
Bull is a sharp and ruthless one-act that allows for no waste of words or action. It is lean and focused almost to a fault, an exercise in balancing abstraction against narrative detail to create visceral tension onstage. It moves like a train with the brakes off, always, inexorably, on task. I suppose one must allow that the extremely narrow perspective keeps it from being a truly great play, one that develops a larger and more complex worldview or commentary. True enough. But it is a play that is simply thrilling to take in if done correctly.
It is difficult to find fault with Mike Brook’s production. Whether true or not, it feels nearly perfect in its execution. Adroitly cast and played by the four person ensemble (unlike Godot, Phil Lynch’s selfishly pragmatic boss does arrive) with such well judged pace and energy that the viewer is forcefully pulled into the moral conflict, even if sympathy for any of these characters is a difficult landing.
Bartlett’s ending shows no mercy on its characters or the audience, but theatre this clear in its mission and so potent in its impact is always worth celebrating, and there is joy to be found in even dark material when it represents this level of quality. There are only 4 performances. Mark your calendar.
(Editors note: this review is based on a preview performance)
Part of the Slant Culture Theatre Festival
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Thursday, November 13 – 9pm
Saturday, November 15 – 7pm
Friday, November 21 – 7pm
Sunday, November 23 – 5pm
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.