By Roger Linnett
As Director Hanna Hall writes in the program’s Director’s Note, “Chaos represents the thread in the universe that allows humanity free will. Even though it is wild and unpredictable, it is part of the human condition.”
And from the opening scene of James Mathers New play, when a crazed, ranting woman (Laura Peters) crawls into an oven, in a sort of extreme Sylvia Plath maneuver, you kind of wish your seat had a safety belt because you’re definitely going down the rabbit-hole.
Enter the Homicide Detectives – The Captain (Paul Tei) and his psychic sidekick, the eponymous “Astral Dick”, Lt. Leo Fleck (Marc Hickox), a parapsychological detective, i.e., a medium with a badge, under the recreationally abusive guidance of his captain, to investigate what they ultimately determine, by way of a fluid Abbot and Costello-style repartee, is the work of a serial killer – and that’s one of the more rational scenes.
Hall uses every inch of the compact Electric Lodge stage, accented by perfectly-executed lighting, to create a modernist noir reality upon which this existential mixing of terror and freedom struts and frets, framed by a nondescript hodgepodge of architectural styles and extraneous objects, complementing the sparse, multi-functional set pieces.
The use of wooden orange crates adds a playful, almost childlike, quality to the set.
Occasionally, amateurish Mummenschanz-like figures attempt to surreptitiously deliver to, or take props from, the characters, who continue unfazed, adding another delicious layer to this tiramisu of absurdity.
The use of pre-recorded audio as Lt. Fleck communes with the Captain from his “astral plane,” synchronized to the action on stage, helps draw the audience into the screwball multi-dimensionality of Mathers’ tour de farce.
After the Captain is “killed” at the end of Act I, the intrepid, albeit insipid, Lt. Fleck, wracked by totally over-the-top anguish, vows to find his killer. As he says: “I’m a dick. It’s my job to know things.”
The play is billed as a whodunit, but in the end it doesn’t really seem to matter that the mystery isn’t solved as Fleck’s investigation leads him into a web of sex and religion. One he wants, the other he despises, but at times you can’t tell which.
The subject/object of his investigation/desire is one Marlo Montecarlo (Kaytlin Borgen): “It rhymes and it’s alliterative,” she points out.
Abetted by her conniving, lascivious mother, Bunny (Rachel Robinson), Marlo sets her sights on the tall, dark and handsome, but conflicted Lt. Fleck. Then things get really kinky. (I’d just like to add a personal note to Mr. Mathers – Thanks for undoing years of therapy with that damned Sock Monkey (the late, crispy Laura Peters)).
Fleck’s interrogation of the cult leader Master Jeshu (Dan Lawler) and his sycophantic minions (Skyler Millicano and Jessica Farr) is a glib send-up of every bad cop show or movie you ever saw, and made even zanier by the appearance of their attorney Stan (Jordan Byrne), the best Satan incarnate smarmy lawyer since Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate.
The finale is a Fellini-esque amalgam of bodies, and amid all the craziness is a “message,” but it’s up to each audience member to figure out what that is after they emerge from Mathers’ darkly-wacky world.
Astral Dick will be performed at The Electric Lodge, 1415 Electric Ave., Venice for the next two weekends: May 31 – June 3 and June 7 – 10. Thu., Fri., Sat. evenings at 8p.m. and a Sun. matinee at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $20, and are available at carboncopyproductions.com or at the door.