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THEATER REVIEW

Brutal 'End of the World'

Two uneven one-acts by British playwright Edward Bond show a society verging on self-annihilation.

August 03, 2007|Charles McNulty | Times Staff Writer

A derelict room is all that separates the characters from apocalyptic chaos in "It's the End of the World as We Know It," a double bill of one-acts by British playwright Edward Bond, now receiving its American premiere at the Empire Theater in Santa Ana.

The plays, produced by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company, examine the possibility of selfless goodness in a world teetering on the brink of disaster. And as you might expect from the author of "Saved," the brutal drama about demoralized working-class Londoners that infamously depicts the stoning of a baby, love doesn't exactly save the day.

In "The Balancing Act," an absurdist comedy that tunnels into a moral abyss, Viv (Jennifer Bridge) is found squatting in a house that's about to be knocked down. She's convinced that if she steps foot on a certain spot on the floor, the planet will become completely unhinged. With humanity's destiny hanging in the balance, she's determined to do what she can to thwart a global holocaust.

Nelson (Julian Draven), a blandish bloke with a soft heart who brings her meals, wants her to snap out of this delusion. But after she's apparently killed in the demolition of the building, he learns through a parade of wackos that she may in fact have been the sanest of them all.

The production, which rapidly transforms into a violent vaudeville, never establishes a guiding tone under Scott Barber's direction. The company, operating with more gusto than discipline, reduces the anarchy of Bond's galloping dystopia to mere theatrical confusion. Still, it's a brave attempt at figuring out a rather tricky parable.

In "Chair," a more somber and stylistically simple meditation, Alice (Brenda Kenworthy), a woman whose eyes brim with long-endured Orwellian horror, tries to keep Billy (Alexander Price), her grown yet mentally stunted ward, occupied with his childlike drawings. From her window, she keeps tabs on a soldier (Paul Knox), who has been waiting for hours at a bus stop with a prisoner (Sally Norton). Plucking up her courage, Alice leaves her home to offer him a chair -- an act of uncalculated kindness that's treated like a brazen affront to the conventional order of things.

This simple deed ripples with nightmarish consequences not just for Alice but also for Billy, whom she has looked after at great risk to her own safety. Of course, in a fascistic society, safety is a fantasy that's as easily destroyed as an abandoned puppy on a freeway.

Barber's staging, though sloppy in its blocking and diction, features three gritty performances by Kenworthy, Price and Knox. Together they communicate a palpable -- and quite terrifying -- sense of society hellbent on its own annihilation.

The question Bond seems to be posing here and in "The Balancing Act" isn't how can we stop the deadly madness but how might we retain a scrap of moral decency while the ground opens up beneath us.

charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

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'It's the End of the World as We Know It'

Where: Empire Theater, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana

When: : 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Aug. 11

Price: $20

Contact: (714) 547-4688 or www.rudeguerrilla.org

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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