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Korder Rolls With Guerrillas in the Midst

November 15, 2001|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Search and Destroy," Howard Korder's quirky little play about professional fear and how it can turn into success, turns into a tantalizing, quirky little evening of theater in this revival by Rude Guerrilla at its Empire Theater in Santa Ana.

Martin Mirkheim is the world's biggest loser, whose grand schemes peter out before he can make anything of them. He wants to be right, honest, true and adventurous, but none of that seems to bring him success. Then he decides that a favorite novel of his, a study of being right, honest, true and adventurous by a rabid "success" lecturer, Dr. Waxling, would make a good movie.

Though Mirkheim has never made a film, he forges ahead into that unknown world of producing. His attempts to accomplish his dream lead him into the moneyed circles of high-level drug dealing, and sure enough his $250,000 investment in cocaine that's to be translated into production capital blows up in his face. His fateful turnaround is a moment fraught with everything that's wrong with the success-at-all-costs American idea. A violent turn of events beautifully sets up the playwright's punch line.

Director Sharyn Case knows the territory and guides her excellent company through its labyrinthine side roads with insight and a nice sense of Korder's black humor. The sometimes vastly changing rhythms are all correct, and she keeps the action moving briskly in fine noir style. The scene changes, props and furniture are expertly accomplished with a visual smoke screen of all the actors walking in circles in the semidark, rushing with apparently little purpose, just like Mirkheim. It's a nice physical touch that adds some subtext to the action.

As Mirkheim, Jay Michael Fraley gives one of his better performances, groveling at the same time he's sticking his neck out. He is a walking conundrum that proves Korder's premise and Fraley's sense of rich subtext. As Kim, Mirkheim's partner in the shady drug dealings, Joseph Hutcheson is equally strong. Hutcheson's feeling for Kim's slimy outlook and surface slickness is just right.

In the supporting cast, Alex Dorman's comic flair shines as Ron, a family man who just happens to deal drugs. Vincent Joseph Baca scores in some of the heavier support roles, especially as Pamfilo, the crafty cocaine importer. Cecily Smith is a delight as Waxling's receptionist, one of Mirkheim's steppingstones to success. Able support is given by Jill Cary Martin, Alexander Rodriguez and Bryan Jennings in various guises.

"Search and Destroy," Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. (also Nov. 29, 8 p.m.) Ends Dec. 2. $15. (714) 547-4688. Running time: 2 hours.

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