It's fun to listen to "Battery" at Second Stage. Daniel Therriault's dialogue is a ripe blend of primitive slang and advanced metaphor, dotted with enough comedy to ward off weariness and pretense. Richard Olivier's actors spit it out as if they were born to talk this way.
They weren't, of course; no one was. "Battery" is a parable, a story only tenuously connected to the real world. In it, a domineering Mr. Fix-It applies homemade shock treatments to his manic-depressive assistant. The treatments work so well that the assistant declares his independence--and encourages the master's girlfriend to do the same.
The question is raised: Would Dr. Frankenstein have been any happier if he had created a man instead of a monster?
Therriault's answer rings truer than the question itself. The ease with which everything falls into place for the apprentice and the girlfriend, enabling them to break away, seems pat and slightly anti-climactic.
However, parables don't have to be subtle. They just have to express their point, as entertainingly as possible. The point of "Battery"--about the limitations and dangers of a mechanistic view of life--comes through, and the entertainment value never flags.
A 1983 production of an earlier version of this play, at the Cast Theatre, was criticized for a set that was too realistic and for uneven performances. These aren't problems here.
The set, designed by Olivier and Anthony Edwards and lit by Michael Gilliam, is a detailed simulation of a basement-level electrical shop. But it's lifted out of naturalism by a collection of detritus that floats near the ceiling. Perhaps it represents the clutter inside the manic-depressive's brain?
All three performances crackle. Lee Arenberg's thick, squat body and sunken eyes serve as eloquent reminders of the cerebral overload inside the apprentice, and he transforms himself as convincingly as possible for his second-act metamorphosis.
Ron Campbell brings a devilish beard and grin and razor-sharp energy to the role of the electrician, and Kathleen Wilhoite is strikingly piquant as his girlfriend. Her "Sweet Charity" get-up led me to wonder what this poor kid does for a living.
Therriault doesn't display much interest in anything quite so extraneous. Considering how extravagant his dialogue is, his play is surprisingly focused. He's a writer to watch.
Performances are at 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through May 4, (213) 937-6837.