Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Highways Performance Space
Through April 26
Playwright Michael Kearns’ latest opus is like a dark funhouse ride, in which kaleidoscopic fragments of themes shift and coalesce into entirely different ideas from scene to scene. It’s a drama that frustrates even as its emotions connect with ferocious power. Some may find the ambiguity of the structure and the under-informing nature of the text to be infuriating – but it is also important to remember that the world itself is ambiguous: We can’t expect always to know and understand what we see, and many things that we think we understand we simply get wrong.
Padric, a young Irish rent boy (Michael Ciriaco), flies to Hollywood with the ostensible purpose of hooking up with Peter (Michael Matts), a documentary filmmaker whom Padric mistakenly believes is making a film about Padric’s dad, a legendary street performer who used to pretend to shoot people dead in cold blood. After an exceptionally torrid hook up, the two set off to make a film, containing interviews with a group of folks whose only unifying trait is grief over a different catastrophic shooting.
There’s a cop (Ryland Shelton), recovering after saving kids from a maniac shooting up their grade school, and a prostitute (JoNell Kennedy), who kills the lover who rapes her infant daughter. Most harrowingly, there’s a kindly, socially prominent, HIV positive psychiatrist (David Pesner), who by night secretly dons an S&M facemask to cruise leather bars at night to pick up dudes, and then fires a gun into their anuses (a clear AIDS metaphor if there ever was one).
Mark Bringelson suffuses this sometimes dream-like, sometimes nightmarish material with an atmosphere of unease that reminds us of some of the earlier films of Gregg Araki. This is dark stuff – and the descriptions of grief alternate with bursts of rage and a sense of danger. Conventionally respectable people these are not – any attempts to fit in the norm results in eruptions of their true, more complicated natures. To underscore this point, the production boasts an unusual amount of sexual situations, as if to say that it’s only when we’re naked that we’re our true selves, good or bad. Honestly, the sexuality is more disturbing than erotic, echoing the notion that sex can be a weapon of rage, just like the guns used to kill in other scenes.
Over the years, Kearns has written many plays full of character portraits, but here the characters are often left intentionally incomplete, with motivations that are subject to interpretation. This artistic choice is solid, and the haunting quality engendered by the work stays with us long after the show’s over.
As a somewhat vulpine symbol of cruel sexuality, Ciriaco is simultaneously creepy and sultry as the young Padric. Kennedy, as the angry prostitute, offers a shattering, strangely sympathetic turn. However, the chilling standout here is Pevsner’s remarkable performance as the kindly shrink turned nightmare sex troll – one of the most spooky explorations of the pairing of normal life against the human dark side you can imagine.
This is a play whose writing explores the idea of the outlaw, whether it’s a rent boy running rampant in the City of Angels, a maniac shooting up a school, or a man unable to find the balance between his outward life as a “helpful homosexual” and his inner self as a sexually driven corruptor.
Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.- Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through April 26, http://Highwaysperformancespace.org