Broken Glass No more march to socialism, just a billion stories

by Joel Beers

OC Weekly

We generally like our infidelities, our substance abuse and our empty lives-in the theater, at any rate-cloaked behind a veneer of witty conversation and classy surroundings. It's racy when adultery is committed with the flair and panache of Noel Coward's charming alcoholics. It's downright mesmerizing when the bickering broken souls speak as well as Edward Albee's.

But a man giving another man a rim job onstage and stopping only because he gets blood on his face-well, that's a long way from theatrical status quo. As are knives up the rectum, snuff films and graphic depictions of smoking heroin. But they go a long way toward explaining the peculiarly subversive stance of Mark Ravenhill's play Shopping and Fucking, receiving its Orange County premiere courtesy of the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company. Rarely does a play come along that confirms every fear and loathing that the morally indignant routinely level at popular culture; even rarer is a play that is able to deal in such vulgar, shocking material and yet possess a mind and poignancy all its own. And while this is by no means a great play-the constant Disney allusions are pedestrian and redundant, and the plot seems blearily cobbled together over more than a few pints-there are several great scenes and several great moments. All of it is sustained by a production that delivers an unblinking portrait of a sick, grimy world while simultaneously making us feel deeply for its emotionally ravaged characters.

The play revolves around three foundering Londoners involved in a twisted triangle. There's the oldest of the three, Mark (Jay Michael Fraley), a junkie bisexual who desperately wants to kick his dependency on chemicals and people. There's his boyfriend, Robbie (Eric Eisenbrey), a young punk. There's Robbie's girlfriend, Lulu (Lorianne Hill), an actress who is-relatively speaking-the most normal of the bunch. In an effort to kick, Mark splits the tangled nest only to wind up with someone equally screwed up: Gary (Nicholas Downs), a teenage prostitute living above an arcade after running away from his sodomizing stepfather. Meanwhile, Robbie and Lulu, bereft of Mark's "mature" guidance, have to find jobs. They get caught up in an Ecstacy ring led by Brian (Robert M. Tully), a simmering psychopath who is nonetheless driven to tears by Disney's The Lion King. The parallel plots intersect in the play's gruesome and compelling climax, which contains the most hair-raising and shockingly explicit dialogue and actions I've ever seen onstage. Director Dave Barton pulls no punches in his production; in fact, without having read the script, I'm still willing to guess he added a few right hooks. He's graced with a cast that is absolutely fearless when it comes to the script's demands, which include everything from baring breasts and genitals to reciting Shakespeare during phone sex. Fraley and Hill deliver particularly strong performances, with Tully's psychotic Brian scoring big in his more intense moments. Downs' and Eisenbrey's characters seem a bit unsolidified, but they're wholly effective when it counts most.

But what does it all mean? Well, it's designed to be offensive. And I don't mean offensive in the sense of vulgar or obscene-although there's plenty onstage that could easily qualify. It's offensive in terms of a football team's offense-attacking and aggressive. There's a real sense of anger and frustration in this play. These characters represent the dispossessed, those condemned to drift in the margins of a society that venerates wealth and image above all else. If you don't have the clothes or the cash, you're not really worth much of anything. It's a lack of self-worth that manifests itself in the desperate way these characters clutch at money and emotional contact. And that's what gives Ravenhill's play its sharpest edge. It's not the sodomy. It's not the snuff films. It's the rather angry critique of a consumer society in which image is everything. He tips his hand during a monologue in which a character says that stories used to be grand and big but the world got tired or senile and now there are no more big stories That's a staple of postmodern theory: the age of sweeping narratives is over. No more march toward socialism. No more historical evolution toward human enlightenment. All we have now is a morally relativistic world populated by billions and billions of little stories, all jockeying for space, all clamoring for attention. And it's only natural that those without the means (re: the money or position) to get their stories told will continue to feel alienated and worthless.

This is a story about people who rarely get their story told-at least not in the theater. They have the same needs and desires of those higher up the food chain but not the means to satisfy them. So they're trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of degradation and frustration. In essence, then, this is a play that, like so many others, holds a mirror up to society. Except this mirror doesn't belong in the well-manicured hand of a well-dressed woman in a well-appointed drawing room. It's a filthy mirror with traces of cocaine residue, grubby fingerprints and dried blood smudged into it-the kind of ragged, jagged surface that can easily double as a most effective weapon.

Shopping and Fucking by the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company at the Empire
Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Opens Fri. Fri.-Sat., 8
p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Through March 11. $12-$15.

Lorianne Hill and Robert M.Tully
The Rude Guerrilla staging of Mark Ravenhill's 1996 tragicomedy shows desperate lives.

By ERIC MARCHESE The Orange County Register

On the surface, it may seem that the five characters in Mark Ravenhill's often-shocking "Shopping and F------" have nothing in common: They're all middle-class Londoners scraping for a pound or two ... or, in some cases, thousands of pounds a night. But Ravenhill, like Brad Fraser in his "Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love," is going for social commentary. When he looks around, he sees desperate souls swimming in a world of confusion. More than ever, Ravenhill says, society is awash with folks like this: Culture doesn't provide them any clues or guideposts, so they act out their most basic instincts.

The spiritual connection between Ravenhill and Fraser isn't lost on Rude Guerrilla Theater Company's artistic director Dave Barton, who two years ago brought "Unidentified Human Remains" to the stage of the Empire Theater and now offers Ravenhill's 1996 drama. By turns comical and starkly tragic, it's a work that, like Steven Soderbergh's current film "Traffic," depicts a sordid world of sorry characters addicted to drugs -- and only occasionally ashamed for being so -- or viciously ready to prey on those so hooked. Practically all of the characters in "Shopping" are desperate for human contact and affection. Mark, Robbie and Lulu share a flat. Mark was once a stockbroker who now spends his days huddled over the coffee table smoking heroin. Middle-aged Lulu is tired of Mark's highs and lows. She and the teen-age Robbie sleep together, but Robbie craves Mark's love as well. Mark -- Jay Michael Fraley in Rude Guerrilla's production -- is the story's focal point. In a downward spiral he doesn't know how to stop, he enters a rehab clinic. It's drilled into his head that he's as prone to emotional dependencies as he is to physical ones, but that doesn't stop him from starting an affair with Gary (Nicholas Downs), a teen-age prostitute whose seemingly pliable surface masks a dark fantasy in which he submits to domination from a powerful and ruthless father figure.
Lulu (Lorianne Hill), meanwhile, becomes entangled with Brian (Robert M. Tully), a television executive whose wealth has been built by dealing drugs. After a questionable "audition" in which Brian exercises his power over Lulu, he hires her to deal drugs for him. But she and Robbie (Eric Eisenbrey) soon find they're in way over their heads. Ironically, Brian is the only character who seems to have found all the answers. The source of his wisdom, the Holy Grail he prescribes to all others, is the animated Disney film "The Lion King." While this element is comic relief for "Shopping's" intense darkness, Brian's character is not. Tully provides the dangerous edge and the explosive rage that mark the moral center of a man capable of anything.

The other standout is Fraley, who's becoming a fixture at Rude Guerrilla. His buzz cut makes him look all the more frail, and his intense eyes and quivering voice lend to Mark's fragile state -- so fragile that, for most of the play, he seems on the verge of tears. Eisenbrey's Robbie is a cheeky lad whose naivete -- or is it just plain idiocy? -- lends the character a quasi-comic air. Lulu, who seems relatively centered by comparison, is a nice balance for Robbie and Mark, and Hill gives her the right combination of frustration, anger and self-doubt. Looking like a rosy-cheeked young Tom Cruise, Downs' Gary is also the right mixture of false bravado, fury and a dark, self-destructive compulsion. Barton has retained the thoroughly British tone of "Shopping and F------," which his cast rewards not only with dialects that have the right feel, but with stage presence to match. Be forewarned, though: The play's violence and sex often intersect in places some may find disturbing.

In Barton's hands, the sex scenes, though explicit and graphically staged, are never gratuitous, but merely an extension of each character's bottomless emotional needs. Barton's set is, thankfully, minimalist -- a platform, a couple sticks of furniture and a TV and VCR. More interesting, and pertinent, are the corporate logos he has painted on the Empire's walls. They include Citibank, Lloyds of London and British Petroleum -- often-voracious multinationals whose presence has created the depersonalized world Ravenhill's poor unfortunates inhabit.

Eric Eisenbrey and Lorianne Hill in a scene form 'Shopping and F____'.
Sex, Drugs May Fail, but Not 'Shopping'

Explicit play about money's central role benefits from an insightful director, well-chosen cast.

By T.H. MCCULLOH, Special to The Times

If playwright John Osborne was Britain's first "angry young man," it appears that nearly 50 years later, they are getting angrier and angrier. A perfect example is Mark Ravenhill, whose first full-length play "Shopping and . . ." is currently explaining to us, at Rude Guerrilla's Empire Theater in Santa Ana, some of society's great errors in today's world. Ravenhill uses a microcosm of society's underbelly to make his point, but accomplishes his purpose with those rare qualities of the playwright's art: passion, cutting-edge situations, deadly aim and frank disregard of propriety. The play is riddled with rough language, explicit (though simulated) sexual acts, violent emotional integrity and a sure eye on his subject matter. "Shopping and . . ." was highly successful in the United Kingdom and has played all over the world. It's easy to see why. Ravenhill leaves nothing to the imagination in pressing his case, which is, as one character states, "Civilization is money-money is civilization." We all know that money drives everyone. The whys and wherefores of its gathering doesn't always matter. To Ravenhill, the greed of the highly placed is the same as the greed of the low.

Mark is a junkie stockbroker who would like to kick the habit, but has to deny relationships to do it. He leaves his menage a trois for rehab, but fails at that. Robbie, who loves him, and Lulu, who loves them both, try to continue without Mark, but find a disastrous drug deal brings them to their knees financially. They're in debt to a drug dealer who loves "The Lion King" but adores obedience even more. Mark's best bet is a young, charming, available male hustler, whose sexually motivated death wish finally sends Mark back to his menage and the realization that shopping is the safest solution and money the most comfortable way to achieve it. Translate these figures into any level of society and Ravenhill's assessment remains valid. He simply has chosen to express his observations in wildly theatrical terms.

The premise of the play aside, Ravenhill's work is touching, frightening and ultimately heartbreaking. We can look at ourselves through his eyes and it's pretty scary. But it's also gripping theater and totally involving. No one under 17 will be admitted, but for any age over that there is a lesson to be learned here. Artistic director Dave Barton has given the play its best shot in hi insightful and understanding direction, and the cast couldn't be better. Nicholas Downs' charming but conniving hustler; Eric Eisenbrey's snotty, rough-edged Robbie; Lorianne Hill's manipulating Lulu; Jay Michael Fraley's continually crumbling Mark; and Robert M. Tully's viciously controlling Brian, are exceptional portrayals of disreputable characters, and the actors make the characters real, interesting and often affectionately attractive.

Shopping and Fucking" at Rude Guerrilla review

Mark Jonas
A heart attack of a play, Mark Ravenhill's "Shopping And Fucking" is probably one of the most unsettling works in the current repertory. A bleak, black comedy that blindsides you with drama, it is not easily digested -- or forgotten.

Orange County, CA's Rude Guerrilla Theater Co. has taken on the challenge of Ravenhill's 1996 debut. It's the story of an off-again, on-again love triangle between petty criminals Mark, Lulu and Robbie (Jay Fraley, Lorianne Hill, Eric Eisenbrey) who intersect the realities and fantasies of a London drug kingpin (Robert M. Tully) and a rent boy named Gary (Nicholas Downs). It's also a story about what happens when you choose to forget about morality. Matters begin badly, then become much worse -- especially when Brian issues an ultimatum to the trio to come up with 3,000 pounds in seven days.

Ravenhill's message is simple: humanity is now on sale. It's not that we can be bought, it's that we have been bought. Corporations, crime bosses, drug syndicates, pornographers and pimps, politicians, and venture capitalists own our psyches and take advantage of our addictions. People are a commodity; people are handed a fate. Each life has a predictable course, and only extreme sensations can divert us from an inner void.

That all sounds pretty depressing. But for much of the world's population, it may be true. Obviously, Ravenhill did some thinking before he penned this play. And the story is remarkably prescient; I'll bet it'll be hailed as a classic ten years from now, the play that warned we would soon live in an empire without borders run by boards of directors. When Brian, the drug thug -- who may actually be God by the logic of Ravenhill's story -- claims straightfacedly that the first words in the Bible are "get the money," an entire decade is illuminated.

So, this five-character tale does not go down easy. It is also not easy to do. Rude Guerrilla's staging succeeds in spite of some big glitches.The first glitch: this ensemble cannot sustain a British accent. Indeed, the accent work is deplorable. Hill sounds British all the time, Eisenbrey most of the time, and the rest of the cast seems adrift somewhere in the Atlantic. (Perhaps it was just an off-night, but thanks to the sloppy dialects, it took me a good 30 minutes to forget that I was watching actors.)

The second glitch: the English sense of humor is missing from the show. Dave Barton's sober direction abates much of the script's comedy, especially in the show's first half. However, after intermission, Barton directs the play's most dramatic scenes fluidly and beautifully. (The drama-first feel of this production could be by default; it may take a British cast to put the comedy across sharply.) Unquestionably, this production has some fine actors -- especially Hill and the redoubtable Fraley, who seems positively haunted in his role.

Since more than a few scenes in "Shopping and Fucking" feature sexual exploitation or sexual humiliation, the cast members have to assume a kind of bungee-jump mentality; to a person, these thespians are unafraid. To address the rumors, the production is indeed NC-17. In fact, let's be blunt: you could call it "X". I've seen hundreds, literally hundreds of plays in my life, and I was amazed to see some of the things I saw during this show. (Your initial "are they really gonna do that?" turns into "oh my God, they are!" at several junctures in the show.) "Shopping and Fucking" is not a good night out; it is a great play. At times, this is a terrific production. Stay with it past the flaws; after intermission, you'll be glad you did, and you'll think about the experience for a long, long time.

Fullerton Observer Review

EMPIRE THEATER TESTS LIMITS

There is not an occasion that comes along very often that the necessity for foul language appears in my writing. But in the case of the play I just attended, called "Shopping and F**king", showing at the Empire Theater in Santa Ana; only one statement comes to mind. Holy S**t! Never again will I utter the thought, art is dead.This play is drugs, sex and Rock & Roll . One of my first thoughts after seeing this was, if you walked out of "Rent", this play will make you puke. I enjoy seeing or having my limits tested for what is acceptable art. And I like to think that my views are liberal enough to accept most subject matter. But at more than one time during the play I found myself struggling to keep my head from turning, or eyes from closing to see the action. It was at one of those moments that I noticed that the author had me in the palm of his hand. The subject matter can only be meant to blatantly expose you to the darker side of man dealing with some of society's biggest taboos plus the quest for power, the constant themes that run thoughout the scenes. Put on by the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company, "Shopping and F**king" is the first of British playwright Mark Ravenhill's full-lenth plays, which made it's debut at the Theater Upstairs at the Ambassador's in September 1996.

In regards to the subject matter, the courage of the actors is immense for what some of the scenes call for.All the actors except for one have a nude scene at one time or another. Notable performances are given by Jay Michael Fraley portraying a heroin addicted homosexual; seeking to escape his addiction by replacing it with a search for young male prostitutes, the likes of which he finds in the obsessive savior seeking Gary, played by Nicholas Downs. The dark story which creates their subsequent love affair leads to an even more unimaginable ending.

Directed by Dave Barton, the twisted world of addiction portrayed in the play puts the issues in the audiences' face. But , housed in the Empire Theater, the issues are not only kept in your face, but in your world, as the stage and audience collide in the confined surroundings. Tough as it may be to associate with the characters, or as surreal as they may seem to some, a thin light of sympathy shines through at the end. As bold as the play is, it should not be missed by those who have the courage. For regular folk it is an eye opener, and for masochists it's the "feel good" show of the spring season.

Backstage: West Coast

SHOPPING AND FUCKING

Santa Ana Feb 16-Mar 11

Reviewed by Kristina Mannion

Backstage: West Coast

Presented by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company at the Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. Feb. 16-Mar. 11. $12-15. (714) 547-4688.

It's only fitting that the Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company is the first group to introduce Mark Ravenhill's raw, sexually explicit black comedy, Shopping and Fucking, to the Orange County theatre world. Known to gravitate toward works that are edgy, graphic, and sometimes controversial (past seasons have included Terrence McNally's contentious Corpus Christi and John Ford's violent 'Tis Pity She's a Whore), the RGTC can certainly boast plenty of experience with scripts that seriously deviate from the mainstream. Gratifyingly, they can also boast an admirably aggressive and compelling approach to such material.

And it's that sort of bold, unflinching execution that best suits Ravenhill's script-a brutal trip into London's underbelly, where a combination of drugs, sex, and money has ensnared an oddly entangled group that includes a drug addict, a ruthless drug dealer, two clueless club kids, and a teenage male prostitute. Of course, Ravenhill's story could be set in almost any major city, since the negative power of drugs, sex, and money is a common enough theme in any setting. Nevertheless, although his themes are not earth-shatteringly new, Ravenhill presents a shockingly lurid-and therefore memorable-portrait of these themes at work. Repulsive and viciously humorous, Shopping may not be to everyone's taste, but its uncensored candor offers a provocative look at some of the darker desires and emotions that we rarely allow to creep to the surface.

With its characteristic daring style in evidence, this RGTC production is an audacious interpretation of Shopping. Without veering from Ravenhill's difficult script-which calls for topless Chekhov readings, simulated homosexual sex, and other sensational interaction-director Dave Barton and his tenacious cast move ahead at full steam, meeting each emotionally challenging moment with stoic honesty and delivering Ravenhill's often stingingly eloquent dialogue with touching sincerity. After watching this staging, the audience can't help but feel empathy for the play's struggling characters and admiration for the group of actors who have willingly stepped into these difficult roles. Again, despite the fact that Ravenhill's ideas aren't remarkably fresh, RGTC brings a sense of newness to the play by successfully putting a distinct, poignant human face on each of the characters.

Filling in the play's linchpin role of Mark, the downbeat addict, Jay Michael Fraley also proves to be the linchpin of this production. His Mark is a sympathetic deadbeat, controlled by his desires for drugs, sex, and ever-elusive love. Even as he betrays and abandons Lulu (Lorianne Hill) and Robbie (Eric Eisenbrey), the two club kids with whom he shares an unusual slave-like relationship, we feel sorry for him as he struggles with his addictions-which lead him to Gary (Nicholas Downs), a young prostitute whose aberrant sexual tastes test Mark's love and also highlight the extremes of human enslavement. Given some of the more bitingly humorous lines, Fraley also exhibits comic skill. He is exceptionally hilarious in a scene that features a naughty joke about the Duchess of York and Princess Diana.