Take a handful of headlines and colorful characters from today's newspapers, stir them all together, and maybe you'll come up with as funny a collection as the cast of The Altruists, the Nick Silver play ending this weekend at the intimate Spontaneous Productions playhouse. Silver plunges his satiric dagger into a gaggle of relationships: sisters, brothers, lovers, liberal do-gooders and professional agitators.
Directors Gerry Bryant and Ian Taylor obviously appreciate the value of pacing and frenzied action. They whip their actors madly through the play, never missing a laugh or comic nuance and keeping audience members on the edge of their seats.
This black comedy features Justin Tharpe, who gives an incredibly sensitive performance laced with humor and pathos as Ronald, a gay Jewish social worker. Ronald grew up in a lovely home with an apple pie family and dreams of making the world a better place. But his life hasn't been the perfection he hoped. His loneliness and hunger for a relationship lead him to fall in love with the handsome but spaced out Lance, played by Matthew Mayer. Mayer is simultaneously pathetic and hilarious, with his twitching and trembling and his wildly rolling eyes that reveal his naiveté and his dependence on drugs, neither of which the smitten Ronald seems to notice or mind. Ronald is shocked to learn that Lance is a prostitute, but undaunted, he proceeds with his romantic fantasies, imagining an idyllic life together.
Marla Steenson gives the show its manic bounce as Ronald's sister, Sydney. Steenson delivers a fast and furious monologue that paints her as a self-obsessed beauty and soap opera star who has put up with her abusive boyfriend for the last time. As she babbles about their incompatible lifestyles, checking her image in every handy mirror, she constantly applies makeup and pops pills from her pharmaceutical cornucopia of a purse. Her rapid-fire dialogue leaves the audience breathless, afraid to laugh for fear of missing another funny line. Driven to the breaking point by Ethan's infidelity, physical cruelty, thefts and insults to her mother, Sydney pumps a few bullets into her sleeping lover. Shocked by her hysterical action, she runs to her brother for help. Here the play's comic complexities really take off.
Zach Townsend tries hard to portray her boyfriend, the blowhard, anti-everything Ethan, but he lacks the comic touch to bring out the nastiness and humor in his character. Ethan marches in protest rallies as well as bedtime frolics with Cybill, another professional protester and self-proclaimed lesbian. Sarah Hull's monologues as the forgetful Cybill are shrill and expressionless. But her altruistic endeavors ("unselfish concern for the welfare of others") consist mainly of marching, slogans, carrying signs and launching stink bombs. All of which could give radical activists a bad name, something author Silver seems to have in mind. This view of the hordes of mindless marchers, cloaked in facades of compassion, will tickle the funny bone of anyone who enjoys a jab at the excess of politically correct causes floating about today.
Silver, who also authored plays like Pterodactlys, The Food Chain and Fit to Be Tied, hones his twisted humor to a peak in this show, skewering many idols with ferocious wit and leaving the audience with a shocking ending.
The Altruists by Nick Silver, directed by Ian Taylor and Gerry Bryant
Spontaneous Productions, 1011 Williams St., (off Boise Avenue, west of Broadway, in the old fire station.)
8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Tickets $10 at door or Ticketweb, more at www.sponprod.com