Search and Destroy
by Howard Porter
at the Landsdowne St. Playhouse
until March 18th
Howard Korder's Search and Destroy is a disturbing parable about how to act reprehensibly and not get caught. Peter Kelly's new production of this play has three power sources: an explosive script, a kinetic cast and a hip new theater.
Search and Destroy is the story of Martin Mirkheim (Lee Stickler), a man of the 80s who finds himself, unfortunately, in the 90s. With the IRS breathing down his neck and bankruptcy looming, he sets off on a nation-spanning, conscience-testing journey to save his financial and spiritual future.
Mirkheim's plan is to make a movie of the best-selling self-help book Daniel Strong, which requires that he finagle production rights from its shady author, Dr. Waxling (Timothy Jackson). His quest leads him into a world of gore-obsessed receptionists, New York drug dealers, coked-up campaign managers and one very convincing, very scary stand-in for the Devil.
Stickler's Mirkheim is hard to like. A bad liar and a slimy businessman, we despise Mirkheim but we can't help rooting him on as the closest thing to normal in a twisted world.
Inhabiting this universe are people like Marie (Mary Ellen Pedulla), Wexler's gum gnashing receptionist who secretly pens blood-drenched film scripts. Pedulla positively radiates attitude with her frenetic body language, gum-punctuated delivery and mercilessly teased hair.
Another magnetic performance is given by Charlie Broderick as Ron, a small time New York hood. Ron introduces himself with a 'fuck'-ridden monologue about a Mets game, a mix-up in ticketing and an assault with a baseball bat, only to leave to pick up his dry cleaning and his daughter from Dalton. This character is 100 percent stereotype, yet Broderick keeps him fresh by packing his performance with sheer exuberance.
Presiding over this crowd of small-time neurotics is Kim (John Porell), a smooth as suede, thoroughly evil character who is constantly shrouded in billowing cigarette smoke. Kim plunges Mirkheim even further into this dark world, involving him in everything from large scale drug pushing to murder.
All this transpires under the shadowy eves of the newly opened Landsdowne St. Playhouse. This is a small, trendy theater upstairs from Mama Kin, Aerosmith's new night club. The sound here is predictably terrific; songs including the Talking Heads, Tony Bennett and an oddly sinister Muzak version of "Here Comes the Sun" deliciously envelop the audience in the mood of each scene. Only briefly in the performance was sound from the nightclub below audible. The set is extremely stripped down--a few tables and chairs--but dramatic, with a backdrop curtain made from strips of film lit from behind with washes of colored light. A smoke machine also covers the stage to creepy effect.
Kelly's production is decidedly cinematic. Characters wander in and out of scenes in which they have no lines, or make entrances onto the stage early, while the previous scene is ending. Violence is also staged particularly well, slowed down and warped by strobe lights for a nightmarishly stylized effect. The poise of the actors and their ability to make such innovative staging seem natural adds to the polish of this play.
One could not hope for a better production of Search and Destroy. Actors, script and theater seem perfectly matched. Kelly's vision combines the sheen of cinema with the intimacy of live drama, and the result is an exhilarating escapist fairytale about a bad guy who gets away with it.