The Lodi Plays | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Lodi Plays 

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Terrapin Theatre

at Stage Left Theatre

Believe me, the best thing about Lodi, New Jersey, is that you don't live there. The denizens who infest "The Lodi Plays," a trio of one-acts by New York dramatist David Simpatico, are a disloyal, venomous lot, mindlessly competitive and mired in their own predatory urges. Much like John Patrick Shanley's love bashers, Simpatico's unsubtle losers love to dress up their drives and disguise their treacheries in flowery language, much of it vaguely anthropological. The camouflage doesn't work: invariably blunt deeds undermine the palaver.

In each one-act a pompous loudmouth--there are two of them in Animal Kingdom--gets punished. And watching these overreachers get their deserts, just and unjust, is great therapy; Donna Inglima's wry Terrapin Theatre staging offers 80 solid minutes of excess in action.

The most strident Lodi send-up is Star Surge, set in a TV green room. The fab dance duo Spontaneous Combustion, temperamental artistes who can fairly taste stardom, are psyched up for their television appearance. But hope turns to rage for Molly (Susan Shimer) when Ross (W. Whitney Spurgeon), a smug new-age narcissist, tells her that she's not beautiful enough to go on. It doesn't matter that she's his lover and financial support--the curvaceous Dee Dee (Tami Zimmerman) is going to replace her. "Don't blame me--blame my karma," the bastard tells his partner. "I'm taking a turn on a preordained path." (In any case, he pitilessly argues, "Ed McCann" told him to dump her.) When Ross and Dee Dee burst into their routine--a hilarious pastiche of every phony, postdisco Vegas flashdance you ever gagged on--Molly unleashes her terpsichorean revenge, with help from Dee Dee, who's suddenly smitten with sisterly solidarity.

In Animal Kingdom the competition is overtly sexual. This spin-off of Sexual Perversity in Chicago features four people in a bar who pair off for mating maneuvers. The aggressive ones--Vickie (Shelly Drucker) and Danny Boy (Dan Montano)--automatically zero in on each other.

Peacocky and flamboyant, Danny Boy ritualistically struts his supposed sexual superiority while Vickie offers Amazonian resistance. In a loud display of bonding they indulge in zoological hot talk: he calls himself "jungle king" and she calls herself "Neolithic mother goddess." He says he's a fisherman with the right pole and worm and she's the poor trout just waiting to be reeled in. But the sexist metaphors start to bother Vickie. Rejecting his phallo-centric rap, she reasons that "the risk of danger is not worth the loss of self-respect." Soon their pseudoprimitive posturings run out of steam. Meanwhile their friends--the mousy Peepsie (Carrie Chantler) and dorky Zipper (John David)--clumsily clown around with her press-on nails and finally stumble into real affection.

In Prom Queen Ramona (Callie Beaulieu) and Bernadette (Victoria Kahn), two simpering teenyboppers, contemplate the coming contest on the night of the senior prom. Future trophy wives, these two are terminally competitive, except (kiss, kiss) with each other. Infuriatingly sure of victory, Bernadette gently tweaks Ramona with always being "number two." Watching slides of the other contestants, they unleash a catty critique of their rivals' advanced bulimia, lesser looks, and sexual stupidities.

Simpatico takes his coosome twosome far beyond Smile and the thinly veiled misogyny of Death Becomes Her to achieve something like the gruesomeness of Coppola's Dracula. Among other things, the girls' radical diet requires them to eat fresh babies. (Seeing it done is more grungy than hilarious.) And unknown to Bernadette, Ramona has acquired some holy water and a personalized voodoo doll. Which she will use.

Well, beauty is never pretty.

It's easy to see why the Terrapin troupe was drawn to these plays: they're brimming with in-your-face histrionics--it would be hard to overdo them. If the blatant and sometimes sophomoric plots don't quite carry the show, Simpatico has provided enough scorching dialogue to make these mean scenes sizzle and spark all over the tiny Stage Left stage. Inglima's manic cast provide the spontaneous combustion.


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