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'Bad Apples' is ripe but hollow at core

August 21, 2007|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Somewhere in the Midwest, a typical tract house has an enormous hole in its living room floor. That hole, which symbolizes everything from American apathy to suburban angst, is the work of Eddie, a supposed foundation expert and good friend to Brook and Peg, the odd couple renting the domicile.

If it seems suspect, it should. This home-renovation project is a cover-up for a criminal enterprise borne of former-cellmate loyalty. All three participants are struggling with suppressed attraction, which gets even loopier after curious neighbor Ida ingratiates herself into the triple-sided situation.

So goes "Bad Apples" at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura. Mark Stein's subversive comedy not only asks us to root for crooks, it practically hauls us into the dirt with them.

Under the yeoman eye of director Nick DeGruccio, "Bad Apples" clips along, with some tickling verbal jousts and passages of physical comedy. Trefoni Rizi's scenic design forms a wood-slatted, shag-rugged blank slate for its characters' tangled motivations, and composer Dan Wheetman's music has the kind of cracked whimsy you associate with Showtime's better series.

Eric Lange is perhaps the most successful casting as Brook, his ultra-nebbish aspect backed by sharp technique and a touch of pathos. Faced with betrayal, Lange whips a pistol back and forth between suicide and homicide, his expressions and tone shifting between tension and hilarity like a whip crack.

Similar aptitude distinguishes Clarinda Ross. Her nattering twang as Ida initially seems like caricature, yet once the plot starts convoluting, it's evident that Ross has this character down cold. Ida's unexpected reappearance at the climax provides "Bad Apples" with its funniest sight gag, and Ross subtly evokes the regret beneath her jovial bombast.

Precious Chong as Peg and Patrick Hallahan as Eddie are appealingly proficient but rather more equivocal, their quality clashing with character requirements. Chong conveys Peg's harried sweetness, but the bad-girl edge never quite registers, and Chong's smarts dull the buildup to her dim bulb's awakening.

The same goes for Hallahan, hunky and likable without really suggesting a naively amoral lug. He gets comic mileage out of Eddie's emotional philosophizing, but this is an intelligent actor impersonating a doofus, not inhabiting him.

Stein concocts an intriguing premise -- caper comedy meets sex farce with social-comment underpinnings -- and his dialogue and layered exposition are structurally admirable. The plotting, however, leaves gaps in logic, and the jailbird devotion that drives this scheme feels faintly arranged. Although the flashbacks within present-tense scenes are effective, aided by designer Steven Young's hairpin light cues, the periodic flash-forwards for Ida and Eddie over-indicate the ironic outcome, negating its effect.

With rewrites, "Bad Apples" could be an ideal boulevard play for the bridge-and-tunnel crowd. At present, this respectable effort seems ripe on the surface but hollow at its core.


'Bad Apples'

Where: Rubicon Theatre Company at the Laurel, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Sept. 9

Price: $26 to $49

Contact: (805) 667-2900,

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

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