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Theater | Stage Review

'Flow My Tears' Has Hallucinatory Style

April 22, 1999|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Visionary or nut job? Throughout his prolific career, legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick traversed a dizzying line between imagination and insanity. Agoraphobic, addicted to amphetamines and intermittently suicidal, Dick did nothing by halves. He married five times and wrote compulsively, gravitating to science fiction as the main conduit for his obsessive literary outpouring.

Written in the mid-'70s and set in futuristic 1988, "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" was penned by Dick in the latter stages of his career. (He died of a stroke in 1982.) Adapted by Linda Hartinian, originally for New York's Mabou Mines and now presented by the Evidence Room at the Ivy Substation, the piece is vintage Dick, fluctuating between the inventive and the paranoiac.

Adored television personality Jason Taverner (Jeff Ricketts), a womanizing egomaniac, falls afoul of a woman scorned and awakens in a flophouse to find that no one knows who he is. Stripped of his very existence, Taverner embarks on an exploration into his past. Is he the victim of a carefully orchestrated conspiracy? Did he fall through the cracks of reality into an alternate dimension? Or was his previous life a drug-induced hallucination all along?

Without his identity papers, Taverner soon gains the notice of police general Felix Buckman (the effectively laid-back Burr Steers), who is also anxious to learn the mystery of Taverner's origins. Besotted by power and his kinky sister Alys (amusing Julia Brothers), for whom he has an incestuous obsession, the devious but debonair Felix resorts to torture and subterfuge to bring Taverner to heel.

Drug-fueled, hallucinatory and downright messy, Dick's dystopian yarn is a theatrical Rorschach, a seemingly random pattern that may have meaning only for his fans. Fortunately, director Bart DeLorenzo and his tongue-in-cheek cast ground Dick's peripatetic plot in an energetic staging as campy as it is cryptic.

In the opening scene, a hilarious variety show parody written and staged by Ken Roht, Ricketts, in a toupee that looks as if it will wake up any minute, performs a pelvis-thrusting Tom Jones number while trading quips with his comely co-host and lover, Heather (Gwyn Fawcett). It's a dead-on takeoff that could have been lifted from an old Second City Television sketch. Also hilarious is the hard-boiled noir tone, complete with Joe Friday-ish narration. However, this sci-fi whodunit has no convenient butlers in the pantry, and no easy answers. If you're not already a fan of the author, this won't convert you--but it will divert you.

Everyone involved obviously has had fun with this, including and especially the designers. Costumer Ann Closs-Farly's futuristic fetish-wear goes heavy on the poly-vinyl, and Jason Adams' sets employ the psychedelic primary colors of early Peter Max. John Zalewski's sound and Rand Ryan's lighting are purposely disorienting, as are Adam Soch's weird, subliminal videos, which flicker creepily throughout.

BE THERE

"Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said," Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends May 16. $15-$20. (310) 535-4996. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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