JOB Stars Peter Friedman and Sydney Lemmon on the Dark Side of the Internet | Playbill

Special Features JOB Stars Peter Friedman and Sydney Lemmon on the Dark Side of the Internet

After multiple Off-Broadway runs, the pair have returned to their roles in Max Wolf Friedlich's acclaimed psychological thriller, now on Broadway.

Peter Friedman and Sydney Lemmon in Job Emilio Madrid

This article was originally published March 1, 2024, and has been updated to reflect the current Broadway transfer of JOB.

A handful of decades ago, the internet was a database utilized mostly for research and daily life convenience. Today, it has expanded into an entire dimension that most people live with one foot in, while the other is planted increasingly loosely in the physical world. Thanks to the rapid development and popularization of social media—plus smartphones allowing us to take miniature computers everywhere we go—entire friendships, hobbies, and jobs are now based entirely in the digital realm. For better or worse, it’s a place we all go to. But, as the online universe continues to expand with each new post and photo and website, who is there to control the negative forces?

Max Wolf Friedlich's JOB, now running on Broadway at the Hayes Theater in a limited engagement through September 29, asks those uncomfortable questions. It follows Jane—played by Helstrom star Sydney Lemmon—a content moderator on mandatory leave from work who, in order to return, must be cleared by a psychologist. Holding her fate in his hands, Succession star and Broadway vet Peter Friedman plays Lloyd, a therapist specializing in “lost causes” who, from the moment he meets Jane, realizes his future is similarly in her hands. Though Lemmon and Friedman have both appeared on the hit HBO series Succession, their scenes were shot separately, making this their first true performance together. But their somewhat serendipitous first meeting was not in rehearsals for JOB. “We were absolute ships in the night on Succession…but we came in on the same plane, and arrived in Dundee [to film] at the same time in the lobby of the hotel,” says Friedman. 

The pair have spent a lot of time together since then. They first performed JOB at the Soho Playhouse in 2023, then again in an encore run at the Connelly Theatre earlier this year. Strong word of mouth and ticket sales led to the show's current Broadway transfer. Now, the pair stand-off onstage each night in both a collision and collaboration of their character’s opposing generations, genders, and beliefs—as Lloyd challenges Jane’s outlook on the largest stressors in her life: her career, the state of the world, and the state of the internet, all of which have left her both desperately hopeless and fervently motivated to try to make some kind of difference.

The psychological thriller places a lens on the simultaneously powerful and powerless person who, in what is described by Jane onstage as a relentless act of self-sacrifice, must eliminate some of the most incomprehensibly egregious content from the internet: images of war crimes, torture victims, child abuse, and more. Though there are countless bots that, using artificial intelligence’s pattern recognition, can flag text posts, photos, and videos for harmful or disturbing content, things can fall through the cracks, and bots—lacking humanity—can have trouble distinguishing between your grandmother’s step-by-step photos of her roast recipe, or something no human eyes should see. Content moderators are the real people who have to see the unseeable to prevent anyone else from ever having to look at it.

“It’s been really interesting how history is unfolding in real time online,” says Lemmon, who notes that she tries to limit her daily Instagram usage to just 15 minutes a day, while also admitting she often greatly exceeds that number. “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me after the show who work in tech—like people who work at Instagram or at Google, and there’s always a white-knuckle grip on my arms saying,This is exactly what it’s like.

Sydney Lemmon and Peter Friedman in Job Emilio Madrid

Whether Jane’s breakdown is a sudden one caused by the horrendous images she sees due to her job, or a gradual one that has brewed throughout her life due to the darkness that already existed in the world, remains a constant debate in Job. While Lloyd sees the internet as a dark place, Jane constantly reminds him that the internet doesn’t do bad things, people do.

Friedman, whether due to being of the same generation as Lloyd or just out of personal opinion, sides with Lloyd on the tumultuous state of the internet. “I’m glad I don’t feel the pressure to do social media,” he says, expressing that he feels “excused” from what, for many, has evolved into a perpetual social obligation.

Though JOB places a chilling spotlight on one extreme consequence of the internet, the unlimited expansion of technology provides even more opportunity to harm by artificially creating content. “It’s scary. If AI is really as potent as they say it is? We’re in trouble,” says Friedman. This sparks a mid-interview discussion between Friedman and Lemmon about articles they’d read on artificial intelligence, like Tyler Perry’s recent discussion in The Hollywood Reporter, where the filmmaker shared his conflicted feelings on how AI could both eliminate excess time and effort, like traveling to filming locations for weather or scenery that can be artificially generated, but therein could also eliminate the jobs of the crew that help transport equipment from place to place. As the discussion goes on, it’s evident that Lemmon and Friedman chat often about news and developments regarding the themes in JOB.

Sydney Lemmon and Peter Friedman in Job Emilio Madrid

Though, in ways that could only be revealed by a major plot twist that certainly won’t be spoiled here, Lemmon and Friedman (particularly one of them—but again, spoiler) aren’t at all like their characters, they’re existing in the exact same world as them. While most plays have some fictional aspect to them, as the audience trickles into the Connelly Theatre each night with a playlist of 2019’s top radio hits playing throughout the theatre, they’re looking into a reflection of their own reality that Friedman and Lemmon are embodying over and over again.

“Whatever good comes out of [the internet], it’s going to go equally in the other direction,” says Friedman of the constant dueling energy online between those who use it as a tool to connect, and those who use it to engage in conflict.

One of Jane’s several contemplative spirals shown in JOB is her inner turmoil regarding the responsibility of everyday people to make the world a better place, and how for many, their attempts exist in a vacuum online rather than making real changes in real life. But then, Jane’s work online is what protects people in real life from the harm that can come from one rogue image or video—at the cost of repeatedly harming her own mind. Lemmon notes that whether you’re a content moderator or a creative, it’s a hard line to toe. “I think people want to do something, but there’s also virtue signaling and it’s hard to find a balance between being effective and being a mouthpiece because you feel social pressure to speak up. So, I don’t have the answers, but I’m seeking them like every other member of my generation,” she says.

Sydney Lemmon in Job Emilio Madrid

With the play’s unexpected ending—where all the questions of humanity and morality click and come full circle, just for it all to be upended, leaving us as rattled as Jane was at the start—Friedman and Lemmon admit to having more questions than answers themselves, but in a constructive and cathartic way. Ultimately, that's how JOB keeps the discussion going, and what forms a well-rounded piece of art: one Lemmon and Friedman are happy to repeat every night…and for a third engagement. 

As Friedman says: “When you have something that’s solid and so meaty to work on, you’re not going to let it go after six weeks.”

Photos: Peter Friedman and Sydney Lemmon in Job Off-Broadway

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