The concept of outsourcing is taken to a bizarre extreme in Daniel Joshua Rubin's The Viewing Room. Set in a not-too-distant future, this American play imagines a world where the problem of prison overcrowding has become so bad that convicts are billeted in people's homes. A black prisoner broods behind the iron bars of his cage, which has been installed in the living room of a liberal-minded couple, along with CCTV cameras, tracking devices and an instruction manual outlining the rules of engagement and the rights of the detained.
Bill and his wife (James Flynn, Samantha Wright) pride themselves on their social conscience (though his company seems to be raking it in from a deal with the Domestic Incarceration Service). The scene seems set for a sharp satire that tests the limits of liberalism by plonking what is usually hidden smack in the centre of left-leaning, middle-class life.
Alas, the laughter that greets AC Wilson's inept production is mostly incredulous and at the expense of the play. Leonard Roberts (from the television series Heroes) has a strong stage presence as the convict. But he deserves better material than a drama that ends up reverting to stereotypes, with the wife (herself caged in an unhappy marriage) getting the hots for her sexy black "guest".
"Welcome to Death Row", the curtain line of Act I, provokes subversive sniggers, as does the wife's blood-curdling outburst against her spineless spouse. "When did you last pick up your own dry-cleaning?" she demands to know, while informing him that she would rather stick the lethal injection in her own vein than have his children.
On discovering that the convict is a murderer and that they are required to eliminate him and leave his suitably tagged corpse out with the recycling, basic principles of justice are bafflingly tossed aside and the play suffers a near-total credibility breakdown.
The Man Who Had All the Luck was the first of Arthur Miller's works to receive a professional production. Conspicuously not blessed with the good fortune that relentlessly shines on its hero, it folded after just four nights in November 1944.
In Sean Holmes's sincere, committed revival at the Donmar Warehouse, the play emerges as an intermittently powerful but awkward attempt to create a drama with myth-like elements (Miller described it as "the obverse of the Book of Job") in an otherwise realistically conceived Midwest community.
The fresh-faced, boyish Andrew Buchan plays David Beeves, a self-taught young car mechanic who, apparently as a result of a series of lucky flukes, gets the girl, the garage, the land, and the lucrative mink-breeding business.
The protagonist is driven paranoid by his unbroken run of jammy breaks. In disconnecting reward from merit, it suggests a moral anarchy in the universe. Informed by the arbitrariness with which lives were ruined during the Depression, and by the fatalistic drift towards fascism in Europe, the play is a fable about the need to take personal responsibility. But the rather placid Buchan never seems sufficiently unhinged by the blessings that rain like blows, and the play fails to develop a rhythm that might intensify our sense of his isolating nightmare.
The most moving section looks forward to the pattern of sibling rivalry and paternal betrayal in All My Sons and Death of a Salesman. Felix Scott breaks your heart as Amos, the brother who has been groomed for baseball stardom. The solitary indoor winter training that was supposed to ensure his success is the very thing that distorts the boy's game and wrecks his chances, as becomes apparent in the harrowing scene where, having been turned down by the talent scout, poor arrested Amos, unfitted for any other form of life, wakes up to the terrible cost of his father's fanaticism.
'The Viewing Room', to 29 March (020-7836 2132); 'The Man Who Had All the Luck', to 5 April (0870 060 6624); a version of 'The Man Who Had All the Luck' has already run in some editions of the paperReuse content