KPBS AIRDATE: April 5, 1995
The country’s on the fritz — but you knew that. And what better place to confirm that knowledge than at the theater of the same name. Right now, you can catch a double bill at the Fritz Theatre that breathes familiarity — and social contempt.
In the regular evening slot is “The Hatchet,” the latest creation by Fritz playwright-in-residence, Karin Williams. I’d call it a work in progress. In many ways, the piece hits its dark, satirical target. Williams is a sharpshooter when it comes to the defense industry and its corporate jargon, engineer ennui, snack-mania, and paranoia. Downsizing, as we all know, is just a euphemism for head-rolling.
But though Williams takes deadly aim, some of her shots miss their mark. The piece needs trimming, less redundancy, more of an arc. The storyline really doesn’t go very far, and the introduction of a super-disgruntled gun-toting former employee falls flat. But the play has promise, and the production has lots to recommend it.
First off, the dialogue is farcical and funny. Second, the set captures the workaday workplace: all icy white and silver, colorless and impersonal. Third, Duane Daniels has directed with his inimitable brand of manic dementia. And his cast is more than competent: with Dagmar Krause Fields, Michael Angelo Castellana and Tim West ably playing the 3 stooges of the industrial complex. Bob Larsen is the absent-minded autocrat whom they kiss up to in person and slice up in absentia. Kathy Gibb looks great as a sniper, but she has nothing very believable to say.
The suspense builds as the 3:30 layoff deadline approaches. Williams should focus on that and can the M-16 subplot. But her dialogue elicits plenty of laughter — of the easy and uneasy kind.
Less funny but more on-target is the Fritz’ current late-night offering, co-produced with the Aleph Company. The complete antithesis of its late-night predecessors, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” and “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,” “Beirut” has an un-titillating title but a highly erotic presentation. In fact, the two actors are buck naked a good part of their hour onstage. We walk through the main theater to get to the stark, brick, Fritz backstage space. It doesn’t hold more than about 20 patrons, so you’re pretty damned close to the action when Michelle Fabiano bares her beautiful body and David Kornbluth keeps refusing to have sex with her.
It’s somewhere in the not-too-distant future, and Torch is in quarantine. Squeezed into a close, closed-in space, we feel his claustrophobia. He’s branded on his butt, like every other plague victim in totalitarian lower Manhattan. His posterior reads “P” for Positive. At penalty of death, Blue has sneaked into this Beirut, this airless death-house, to sleep with him, to be infected by the virus, rather than try to survive, loveless and alone, in a dying city where sex is a capital crime. Torch refuses to kill her with his kindnesses.
He is, instead, disturbingly brutal, and though some of that is in the late Alan Bowne’s provocative text, much must be credited to Ollie Nash’s direction. It’s a beastly world out there in New York (hasn’t it always been??), but Nash takes it to a sexually-barbaric extreme. The language here is also very rough, so the faint-of-heart should stay at home. But the ruminators among us, those who like potent acting, themes and theater, will fly to “Beirut.”
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.