This understated thriller will leave you guessing until the very end what Pimm’s mission truly is.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Stepping into the theater at 59E59 for a performance of Pimm's Mission, you may at first believe that you are in the wrong place. This is a play about an FBI investigation of an explosion, a potential act of domestic terrorism at a major corporation, and instead we find ourselves in a typical New York City bar on a slow Sunday afternoon, advertisements for off-color artisanal cocktails on the chalkboard on the back wall. But as you soon realize, nothing in this new play by Christopher Stetson Boal and Oberon Theatre Ensemble is quite what it seems.
In a small tavern just around the corner from the explosion site, FBI Agent Staats has found Robert Pimm, an aloof Englishman with a bloody forehead claiming to have no memory of how he ended up so close to the bombing at Zincorp. But Staats is convinced that Pimm knows more than he's letting on, and as the interview progresses, we learn all about his relationship with discontented office worker Thomas Blander and how their relationship grew into a challenge to take down a pharmaceutical company. Pimm's Mission uses the framework of an FBI investigation to structure its story, but the true drama is between these two men, told through flashbacks.
This play turns an incident of domestic terrorism into an intimate personal drama, though most of the players never even appear onstage. From Pimm, we hear of his exploits exposing the illegal disposal of toxic materials he discovered at his former job, branding him a secret hero. From Thomas, on the other hand, we learn about his dejection caused by his recent divorce, his bored complacency at his job, his desire to break all corporate taboos by having sex with coworkers and finally, his horror upon discovering that something far more sinister is lurking in the depths of Zincorp.
With Pimm's encouragement, Thomas takes on a "mission" to expose the evils behind a drug trial with tragic consequences that Zincorp would rather see buried. As Thomas gains confidence and excitement even as his career falls apart, Pimm is right by his side. And while we can tell that Pimm is more than he seems from the very beginning, tracking the little moments when his story doesn't quite line up, it isn't until the very end that you truly discover what Pimm's mission is.
Mac Brydon as the slick, smug Pimm and Ryan Tramont as an uncomfortable, uncertain Thomas both give expert performances, their developing relationship forming the heart of the show. The FBI agents, Staats (Daniel Morgan Shelley) and Charles (Patrick Hamilton) function more as devices to pull the truth out of Pimm than fully developed characters, though the banter between Staats and Pimm is often amusing. But the true show stealer is bartender Jim (Brad Fryman), a gruff older man in hipster glasses, socks and sandals who is convinced Pimm is up to no good because he has always refused to try one of Jim's artisanal cocktails.
From failed racist jokes told to the black FBI agent to Pimm's inscrutable, lighthearted English accent, this is a play designed for these actors, as well as for the Midtown Manhattan location where it both takes place and is performed. The small, intimate theater is perfect for drawing an audience into the tale Pimm is spinning, a story that at first seems like simple chatter in a bar but ultimately has the potential to destroy lives as it spirals out of control.
So what does happen when a man determined to expose the truth comes up against another determined to keep it under wraps for his own benefit? You will have to come see the show to find out.
Pimm's Mission plays at 59E59 through August 16.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.