by Myra Chanin
Pimm’s Mission, a new American thriller by Christopher Stetson Boal, opens in a bar with a bang. The bang is an explosion that has destroyed the nearby New York headquarters of major pharmaceutical company, Zincorp, and killed 15 people. In the bar are Jim the bartender (Brad Fryman); FBI agent Staats (Daniel Morgan Shelley) and his whispering minion (Patrick Hamilton); and Robert Pimm (Mac Brydon), an expat Brit who’s a regular customer. Staats is asking Pimm questions. Pimm has little information to give him, claiming the blast has left him addled. He says it several times which always makes me think someone is lying. As the FBI agent is about to leave, Jim the bartender provides some additional information. Pimm comes to his bar every Sunday to meet a drinking buddy—who Jim believes works as an accountant at Zimcorp.
The relationship between the drinking buddies is revealed in flashbacks. It turns out that Pimm had to leave England after he ratted out—less anonymously than he believed—some bad, wrong-doing guys in his company. His mission is making things right. Oy vey! A righteous do-gooder. What turned Pimm into a righteous do-gooder? His two unpleasant divorces didn’t help. His second wife particularly made him feel less than manly. His successful mission, fixing the world, turned those “less than” feelings around more than.
Intermittent flashbacks reveal Pimm’s other mission: making his drinking companion—the recently divorced, depressed, powerless Thomas Blander (who couldn’t have been blander even if he tried)—feel as manly again as Pimm presently feels. How? By giving Blander a mission. To root out something being done wrong at Zimcorp that Blander can expose—hopefully anonymously enough that he doesn’t lose his job—in order to feel like a man again.
Pimm’s Mission is a study in manipulation. But listening to the two principals is like watching the blind lead the blind. It was a play that was all talk and very little on-stage action. In addition, I didn’t connect to any of the characters. I think my lack of connection was a response to flaws in the plot, rather than to performances or the direction. The actors certainly gave their lines their all and director Terrance O’Brian did his best to keep action moving, but all the back and forth flashbacks slowed things down.
I squirmed through most of it, but I know my opinion is not the be-all and end-all of artistic endeavor. I always wait to see how the audience responds, whether they appear more or less effusive than me. The audience that night seemed to share my indifference. The applause was perfunctory.
I find 59E59 a worthy destination. They’re bold. They try new things and most of the time succeed. This one didn’t for me, but I always look forward to going there. It’s an ambitious venue that presents ambitious work.
Pimm’s Mission. Through August 16 at 59E59 (59 East 59th Street, between Park Avenue and Madison Avenue). www.59E59.org