|OC WEEKLY NEW THEATER REVIEW Thomas Hyatt
Penetrator is Rude Guerrilla Theatre Co.’s grotesque yet oddly accessible tale of perversion and repression. At the center are two roommates and their childhood friend, a multiple-personality case who has discovered a secret militant group called the Penetrators. The group’s mission: to create mass panic through a campaign of sexual terror.
Anthony Nielson’s script is crude, sharp and disturbing. In this West Coast premiere, it’s also hysterically funny and probing, following the roommates out of the predictable comforts of coffee, crank and jerk-off mags and into the marginal world of Pynchonesque underground movements.
Director Jay Michael Fraley convincingly captures the sordid natures of these men. Steven Parker seems is like a Satanic smoke machine, pumping out a kind of psychological vertigo and darkness as Woody, the demented ex-soldier who spreads alarm about the approach of the Penetrators.
Penetrator at Rude Guerrilla Theater Co., 200 N. Broadway. Santa Ana (714) 547-4688. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; also Thursday, Dec. 11, 8 p.m. Through Dec. 14. $12-$15.
|Friday, November 21, 2003
With friends like these ...
Rude Guerrilla's 'Penetrator' walks the razor's edge between laughs and nihilism.
By ERIC MARCHESE
|'Penetrator' brutal in its intensity
The Anthony Neilson play "Penetrator" takes an unblinking look at brutality in modern society, from disrespect toward the opposite sex to sadism on the battlefield. But by the time that one character has pinned another to the floor and is menacing him with a long, ugly knife, the audience realizes that it too is being brutalized.
Neilson, a Scottish writer, is known for his in-your-face style, and the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company has a well-documented penchant for provocative material. This time, though, the troupe has been foolhardy.
The story begins with a voice-over describing a porn-magazine sex fantasy, then catches Max (Tim Giblin) in the midst of a very private act. When he turns
around, the audience gets an embarrassingly long look at his lower anatomy.
A noise at the door announces the return of Max's roommate, Alan (Marcus DeAnda). (Director-set designer Jay Michael Fraley renders their L.A. digs as a black hole of shabbiness and filth.) Bored and disagreeable, Max tries to pick a fight with the more sensitive Alan while ranting about various topics, especially women and ingesting a daunting variety of mind-altering substances.
A playful camaraderie keeps trying to reassert itself, but worse trouble is on the way as Max's old buddy Woody (Steven Parker) pays an unannounced visit, his Marine fatigues ominously covered with blood.
There's no intermission and no unobtrusive way to exit the small theater midperformance, so there's no escaping what happens next. Vividly executed, these events demonstrate how hatred warps the minds of victimizer and victim alike, while hinting at humankind's blundering, sometimes hurtful attempts to find affection. But mostly, the production wallows in its ability to make the audience uncomfortable and that's no way to treat ticket-buyers.
--Daryl H. Miller
reviewed by mark jonas
At t2k, we get all kinds of notices for holiday shows, most tender and mild: Santa sketches, Scrooge does a handstand, sing along with the bouncing ball, that sort of thing. But not our thing.
Then we saw a postcard: an X-ray, someone had shoved a bottle up someone's ass. Here was the holiday theater we had been looking for: just a good, aggressive play, no desperate "holiday cheer."
If you want an alternative to the sweet, sentimental molasses of holiday theater, see "Penetrator". Go to Rude Guerrilla Theater Company in Santa Ana, California, which is throwing Anthony Nielson's kick-ass dramedy at Orange County.
"Penetrator" is about guy culture, and the plight of straight men in deep self-denial -- a situation good for laughs, and ripe for tragedy. At the start, a haunted man (Steven Parker) on a highway tries to hitch a ride, listening to a memory of hardcore pornography -- the usual rape story, reimagined into a lie of pleasure. Seconds later, we see Max (Tim Giblin) jerking off to the same story in his shit apartment. We watch him slack and waste time; we can see his only friends are dope and masturbation.
Well, maybe he does have one good buddy: his roommate Alan (Marcus DeAnda). They get high and talk about TV and adolescent preoccupations, and engage in latent homosexual behavior. They're a couple, honestly. They just don't know it.
Suddenly, the haunted guy shows up at the door: his name's Woody, and he's Max's childhood friend. Some friend: he hears voices in his head, he has someone else's blood on his clothes, and he keeps talking about a "dark room" in the Army where he was held captive and men tried to rape him.
These very men, the "penetrators," are after him right now.
Alan wants to call the cops, but Max calls for understanding. Woody is his lifelong friend; he wouldn't hurt anyone. Suddenly, Woody pulls out a14-inch knife.
What should Max and Alan do? Will they die in some kind of bloodbath?
No, no. For thankfully, "Penetrator" is not as inevitable as its title might indicate. The crux of the story isn't violence, but friendship. As the play moves along, we have to decide: is Woody telling the truth? Are men from a secret Army unit hunting him? Was he raped and tortured? Is he the monster he seems? Or is he playing a game in search of a certain tenderness he lost as a child -- a mind game with a childhood friend for whom he has unrequited love? How intimate have these men been? How intimate will they need to be with each other, to save each other?
The script's unsettling drama is marbled with sharp comedy, and Jay Michael Fraley's efficient, actor-centered direction allows us to discover two fresh talents. Marcus DeAnda is unknown to me; he belongs to something called the Meta Theater Company in L.A. Tim Giblin, according to the program, studied painting in New York and owned a steel fabrication shop in Brooklyn. Both are comfortable in roles that would make many actors squeamish, both are completely at home in this play, and hopefully they will be seen at this theater again.
In the versatile Steven Parker (an actor who has excelled in several Rude Guerrilla shows), Fraley has found the right Woody. Parker handles the character's ADD, mania, and delusions with an exciting randomness and impulsiveness, and believe it or not, a hint of grace -- as if Woody has found strange peace in madness.
If you look at the listings and bemoan all the holiday theater, have an adventure. See "Penetrator", maybe even with someone you love.
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