The Cut' cuts right to its disturbing point in Santa Ana
Review: Rude Guerrilla's U.S. premiere displays the shock value of
Ravenhill's latest drama without exploiting it.


British playwright Mark Ravenhill has never shied away from shining a bright light into the darkest corners of society, so it was inevitable that he would eventually produce a work dedicated solely to the effects of subjecting political captives to torture.

Called "The Cut," it gets its U.S. premiere right here in Orange County, at Rude Guerrilla Theater Company. It's no mistake that RGTC's artistic director and co-founder, Dave Barton, has already directed several Ravenhills at Rude G's venue, including three U.S. premieres (counting "The Cut").

In "The Cut," the affinity between director and material is more than apparent – and anyone reading this should be warned that the 2006 play is not for the squeamish.

Not that "The Cut" ever subjects us to watching someone being tortured – thankfully, that only happens during part of one scene, a part more excruciating for us than for its victim.

All we know of him is that his name is John. David Beatty plays him with the intensity of any hardcore practitioner of civil disobedience. He stands on principle. "The Cut," he argues, has been around for centuries. He even refers to it as "an old and beautiful custom."

Calling the practice "barbaric," Paul (Bryan Jennings), the security officer at the detention center where John has been kept, warns John, "You'd be in great pain – but, so would I."

John, however, gets into Paul's head. Believing it will release him from his body, John wants to be the recipient of The Cut.

When he finally is, Beatty screams, moans and groans, every fiber in his body shuddering, and we recoil in horror.

Nothing beyond this moment is as graphic, but that doesn't make "The Cut" any less unnerving or disquieting in its remaining two scenes (the play consists of three consecutive, unbroken scenes). Barton and his cast of five neither exploit the script's shock value nor drain it of all emotion. They figure it's enough just to show us these characters, and indeed, it is.

Most fascinating of all is Paul, around whom "The Cut" revolves. Likea secret agent or CIA operative, he's forbidden to tell his family how he makes a living, having fabricated a story long ago that he's just a paper shuffler.

After more than a quarter-century of marriage, though, Paul's wife, Susan (Lori Kelley), has begun to put the pieces together. Once the couple's son begins to discuss the political landscape with his college classmates, Susan is emboldened, urging Paul to level with her about what she's certain she already knows: That Paul is an instrument of the state, one who inflicts unimaginable pain upon others.

With darkly funny absurdism à la Pinter, Paul and Susan are contrasted. After years, and layers, of pretending his work is innocuous, Paul lives in utter denial; tired of being lied to so blatantly, Susan is as single-minded about getting the truth out of
Paul as she is in maintaining an orderly home.

"Orderly" only scratches the surface of Kelley's portrayal. Her purposeful Susan is downright finicky, as each and every object in her orbit must be in precisely the correct spot, her sarcasm masking heated anger toward Paul. It's a smart read on the role that provides unexpected, and welcome, laughs.

Jennings responds by evoking pathos, his Paul, a soft-spoken, middle-aged, middle-class Brit whose self-assurance is a façade for
his defeated air of self-loathing and gloomy world view. Paul carries the burden of his chosen career, and in work as potent as Beatty's or Kelley's, Jennings seems to have a nervous breakdown right before our eyes.

Our universe is karmic, Ravenhill says, and when the wheel turns once again, we're given the third and final scene. Now it's Paul who, as the state's captive, wears the orange jumpsuit. Who now runs the detention center? Why, none other than Paul's own son, Stephen.

Engard's Stephen is quiet, intense and stoic, an earnest young man whose realization of his dad's acts has rendered him incapable of
smiling or laughing.

By play's end, you may find yourself in the same spot, thanks to Barton's riveting staging, the searing work of his cast and the
potency of Ravenhill's words. Paul discusses torture methods with his son just as he did with John.

Like John, though, Paul wants to be physically brutalized. He begs for it. Now that his secret is out, it's the only way he can alleviate his psyche-crushing guilt. The long-awaited new order, it seems, has arrived.

Oblique 'The Cut' still has an edge
LA Times by David Nichols

The eeriest thing about the first image in "The Cut" is how familiar a hooded figure in an orange jumpsuit has become. In its post-Pinter way, Mark Ravenhill's authoritarian allegory has its sights trained as much on the present as on the not-so-distant future, which is how its stark U.S. premiere at Rude Guerrilla Theater Company plays out.

Ravenhill's narrative, lambasted by many London critics in its 2006 Donmar Warehouse production starring Ian McKellen, is deliberately oblique. The title ostensibly concerns a government-sanctioned procedure, for which handcuffed John
(the vivid David Beatty) is an obdurate applicant. He must first endure Paul (Bryan Jennings, atop his game), the civil servant who ensures that all bureaucratic mandates are in place before he administers the cut, assisted by blood-smeared Gita (Jessica Topliff).

After this taut, unsettling sequence, Ravenhill sends Paul home to Susan (the superb Lori Kelly), his pill-popping, sexually withholding wife. Their arch exchange begins almost as domestic satire, Susan bemoaning the incompetence of servant Mina (Topliff). It grows increasingly mordant with each eked-out detail, as we begin to wonder how much Susan knows and how much Paul feels. In the final scene, Ravenhill introduces Stephen (Sean Engard), their social-reformer son, with a twist that turns the play in on itself.

Director Dave Barton and his fine actors give this metaphor-laden shadow play a dualistic edge, wry yet disturbing, that slices across its opaque aspects. Against set designer David Scaglione's crumbling, war-torn walls, Barton's sound design and the lighting by Shannon Lee Blas keep transitions seamless and tension acute. Less extreme than Caryl Churchill's "Far Away," the Orwellian chill of "The Cut" won't be for all tastes, but its restrained effects are incisive.

"The Cut," Rude Guerrilla Theater Company, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. 8 p.m.
Thursdays through Saturdays. 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3, only. Ends Feb. 9. Adult
audiences. $20. (714) 547-4688. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

The Cut
January 09, 2008
Backstage West By Eric Marchese

Torture is nasty business, and as British playwright Mark Ravenhill's 2006 play so wisely suggests, what goes around comes around. That karmic wheel is presented in three compact scenes, each running roughly a half-hour. Scene 1 gives us John (David Beatty), who has obviously been tortured yet in masochistic fashion begs for "the cut," apparently the most excruciating infliction yet devised by the current regime. The interrogation facility's security officer, Paul (Bryan Jennings), considers it all in a day's work -- except that his wife, Susan (Lori Kelley), and their now college-age son (Sean Engard) have grown suspicious of dad's aversion to discussing his job. The first scene in Dave Barton's riveting staging of the show's U.S. premiere focuses on John, who in Beatty's hands is part Gandhi-like martyr, part spellbinder.

Ravenhill, though, is more interested in what becomes of the souls of those who conduct torture than in the devastating bruises, gashes, and incisions suffered by those like John. As Paul, Jennings delivers a quiet, middle-aged cockney, who likes to think he's simply punching a time clock but who lives in psyche-crippling denial. The second scene shows the corrosive effects of his secrecy upon his marriage and the couple's love life, as Kelley's fastidious, anal-retentive Susan is more concerned with her dinner table (ingeniously, and creepily, the same table upon which John is cut open) being immaculate than she is with listening to Paul's soft utterances of his devotion and desperate cries for validation. By the final scene, a new political order has come into being. Torture has been outlawed and all former torturers rounded up; so what, then, will be Paul's ultimate fate? If you think he fears physical punishment, think again: Ravenhill isn't about to let him, or us, off so easy.

Presented by the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company at the Empire

202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.

Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. (Also Sun. 2:30 p.m. Feb. 3.) Jan. 4-Feb. 9.

(714) 547-4688.

Slice of Life

Rude Guerrilla makes The Cut
Thursday, January 10, 2008 - 3:00 pm

The Rude Guerrilla loves Brit playwright Mark Ravenhill-a man who has been called the U.K.'s most shocking modern dramatist—and since this is my third Ravenhill/RG production review (joining Some Explicit Polaroids and Sleeping Around), I've come to understand, at least in part, director Dave Barton's apparent obsession with Ravenhill's usually gritty work: It's exciting and boundary-shattering, to say the least.

But Ravenhill is one of those writers who often likes to withhold information—perhaps he claims artistic prerogative on this, as so many have-and even those of us who don't mind our drama messy, or dangling about, need some fundamental information in order to get the literal picture, not just the abstractions.

Ravenhill will have none of that. In The Cut, we're instantly thrown into an enigmatic office scene in which a man in an orange prison jump suit begs his by-the-book oppressor Paul (Bryan Jennings) to torture him using the fatal "cut" technique—some type of spinal-cord butchery without anesthesia. Paul offers his captive some alternative choices—going to a university or to prison—but he refuses, asking that Paul allow him to take them both on a momentary Zen trek into nothingness. They meditate together on the office floor, and Paul unlocks his vault of guilt over his brutal profession, which makes Paul even more reluctant to administer the cut. But he soon relents, and the man in orange ends up a bloody mess.

Back home, Paul loses his shizz when his English British wife lets on that she knows he's involved with this barbaric government torture system. They also spend some time barking about why they don't have sex anymore (because Paul's guilt is turning him into a crybaby basket case), and by the closing of the third scene, Paul has become the new man in orange, his own son now the oppressor from a new regime that has rid the world of the cut, and is sending the cutters through tribunals.

Among these shadows of a story are some topical themes: the internal conflicts faced by those who administer torture; the relatively little difference between old oppressive regimes and new ones; and the whole despondent "nothing ever changes" idea of life just looping around, with man constantly reinventing the wheel. The problem is that these messages aren't hidden within any metaphorical framework—they're right out in the open. We long for a story—without knowing exactly what "the cut" is, or why the first man in orange wants it so badly, and devoid of anything concrete about the world we're viewing, we're simply left with disembodied abstractions and proclamations. Why, then, use up a talented cast and stylish set when all one really needs is a lectern and spotlight? Call me when the rally starts.

The Cut at Rude Guerrilla, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; also Sun., Feb. 3, 2:30 p.m. Through Feb. 9. $20.

KUCI—The Stage Door Swings

            Cynical, my ass; this stuff is just down right nihilistic. The latest installment in the Mark Ravenhill series at the Rude Guerrilla is a decidedly ugly little play called The Cut. Set in a post-apocalyptic London, The Cut tells a story about a faceless bureaucrat playing for a system of justice so corrupt, there’s no hope of reform. Sounds nice. We’ve all heard the horror stories. But, unless I’ve missed it somewhere, this play is no piece of journalism. London becomes Everytown in this play; all systems of justice are corrupt beyond saving, and the best humanity can hope for is a loss of its free will. Sounds like pure nihilism to me.

            This production of The Cut is brought to you by the good folks at the Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company. First of all, Rude Guerrilla is, in my estimation, one of the very finest among this current crop of Orange County storefront theatres. Rude Guerrilla productions I’ve seen have all been well realized and the actors they use are, generally, among the best actors in the Southland, union or non-union. This production of The Cut is no exception. As directed by Dave Barton, The Cut plays as if it were a film. The acting style is simple, perfectly suited to a storefront. Bryan Jennings is Paul, the center of the play. Bryan Jennings is a truly superb actor possessed both of the range to go from banally evil bureaucrat to a man happily at his life’s end in ninety minutes, and of the charisma to demand rapt attention from an audience watching an ugly play. David Beatty plays John, one of Paul’s clients. Even in the oddest of circumstances, Mr. Beatty is charming and simple; he reminds me a bit of Jimmy Stewart. The first part of this play is a forty five minute official meeting between Paul and John. Mr. Jennings and Mr. Beatty turn forty five difficult minutes into the most fascinating part of the evening. Jessica Topliff plays Gita and Mina, two children of the play’s mental health policies. She says little, and her actions are robotic, without emotion or reaction. Her lack of feeling, even as she’s being insulted, is chilling. Susan, John’s wife is played by Lori E. Kelley. Ms. Kelley struggles with her dialect a bit, but she is a strong, implacable presence in this play. Sean Engard, as John’s son Stephen, is the weakest link in the cast, but he’s competent enough in his job. Dave Scaglione creates a perfect setting for a Sunday apocalypse. His set is simple, perhaps even elegant, yet it looks and feels like a concentration camp. Shannon Lee Blas’ lights are moody and atmospheric and Chelsea Jennings’ costumes are just creepy enough.

            Trouble is, Mark Ravenhill’s play doesn’t really work. To begin with, this isn’t a play one can love. The best one can hope for is fascination, and the most fascinating part of this play is the exposition. The play comes in three parts and the play’s central character is [Paul]. The first part is about what [Paul] does, the second part is about how his function affects him and the third is the end result, the sum total of function and affect. I admit the first part of this play held me rapt, but as the play progressed, it began to drag; ninety minutes began to seem like a hundred and fifty. The story in this play is in its second and third parts; the first part is just the set up. How good can a play be if the set up is more interesting than the actual story? Worst of all, The Cut is completely devoid of hope. The opening scene is a professional encounter between a prisoner and a bureaucrat. The prisoner demands to undergo an operation that will rob him of his own free will. He’s absolutely insistent; as he himself says, “there’s nothing but the void.” My God! Nothing? While he’s alive and functional, he does, at least, have his own free will, for crissakes. It may only last for eighty years or so, but while it lasts, it is something. On my way home, I couldn’t help asking myself, “why did I watch this thing?” “What was the purpose of this play?” “Was there something meaningful here or was it just a fucking waste of time?” Even with respect due to Rude Guerrilla, my answer was the latter.

            I’ve grown tired of nihilism masquerading as art. Perhaps it’s a function of my age, but it seems to me that the best of plays offer some hope. Even Vladimir and Estragon have the hope that Godot will, in fact, return. Ridiculous as that may sound, it’s that hope that keeps these two clowns alive. The Cut concludes with the feeling that the happiest people in the play are those who have been robbed of their free will by an out-of-control state apparatus. These happy few have no mind, no free will, no capacity for hope. Given that life, in this play, is hopeless, it would seem that those in the play without the capacity for hope are, indeed, the happy ones. Some may call that irony, but from where I sit, that’s just pure nihilism. –Keith David Dillon