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Stripped Down

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There's a odd little niche in geometry, I forget what its called, that's devoted to eccentricities of mathematical space, like the Mobius Strip. A Mobius Strip is a one-sided plane. You can make one by taking a strip of paper, twisting it and then gluing the ends to form a circle. If you draw a line on one side of the strip, the line ends up on the other side as well. If you cut the strip in two, it becomes a single larger strip -- or, conversely, two interlocking strips. Mobius Strips are fascinating, amusing and somehow unnerving. They seem perfectly ordinary -- yet, paradoxically determined to disprove all our ordinary preconceptions.

Trust Fund Babies by R. J. Tsarov is a kind of dramatic Mobius Strip. And like its geometric counterpart, its easier to enjoy than to explain.

The play, which Tsarov also directed, is currently on the boards at The Pickery, where it is likely to be the farewell presentation of the adventurous little theater due to that relentless riverfront uglification program known as the Convention Center.

The mood of the piece is set by the first scene, which is a dark, hilarious comment on sex and violence. A filmmaker is sitting at a couch with a young woman, whom he hopes to arouse by screening his pornographic short film. From barking, scavenger dogs in India, we move to a couple of Swedish back-packers. A homicidal feeding frenzy ensues (all this is heard, but not seen -- which, for some reason, makes it totally ridiculous). The film arouses the young woman's indignation rather than her lust.

OK. A funny little blackout scene. But, we are in a Tsarov play, and so, like the swarm of troubles that poured out of Pandora's Box, the words and images and characters from this short prelude fly out in all directions, both infecting and fructifying everything that comes afterward. Some of the connections are obvious. Some are implied. Some are hinted at. Some are left hanging: open questions, vague possibilities.

I have to confess I cannot accurately relate the story. And if I could, there is no way you would be able to follow it. But somehow this ghostly, hallucinatory world of mysterious interconnections, as you live it moment by moment, is full of surprise and delight -- albeit tinged always with a sardonic tawdriness. I suppose the explanation is that Tsarov is an authentic, talented and highly original playwright and he is enjoying himself immensely.

At any rate, here are some of the things that happen. Celia (Veronica Russell) has stopped at a bar because her car has broken down. Drew (Wild Bill Dykes), one of the bartenders, knows a guy who boots cars, and can give her a jump. The guy, Chip (Gary Rucker) has a "thing" about sea gulls. When he was a security guard, he used to save sea gulls who got trapped in the mall. Now he has a huge, castle-shaped aviary behind his house on the beach.

Celia and Chip become an item. Meanwhile Drew, the bartender, pines after Celia and puts a personal ad in the paper to find her again. Emily (Diana Shortes), who is one of the trust-fund babies of the title, works in a clothing boutique (in the aforementioned mall? Who knows?). She has a "thing" about sex and is about to celebrate her 1,001st partner -- a number fraught with magical resonance for her (perhaps because of her sufi/investment banker parents).

Are you with me? OK, Emily deceitfully answers Drew's personal ad as though she were Celia (whom she knows, although she doesn't know Celia was the woman being sought). Drew is at first disappointed, but later, maybe not so disappointed. Rogan (Travis Acosta), the other bartender -- who is also the filmmaker we met in the first scene -- senses perverse tastes in Emily and ... But, let's leave them for the moment, and catch up with Jackalyn (Raphaelle), who works with Emily and who is having an affair with Patrick (Jonathan Frick), Celia's artist husband.

Well, we've merely scratched the surface. These are some of the interconnections of the plot. There is a deeper, more mysterious level of interconnections having to do with themes: birds, Buddha, India, travel, adopted children and inherited wealth, among other things.

The acting is good, the staging smooth. Max Bernardi's set is spare and effective. The original music/sound design by Eric Laws is excellent.

That the play stops, rather than ends, is perhaps the revenge exacted by those traditional approaches to drama that Trust Fund Babies exuberantly disdains. But, if you want to know what's up on the cutting edge, you don't want to miss this one.

Jackalyn (Raphaelle, top) and Patrick (Jonathan Frick) having a fling is just one of the many intricate sub-plots that add up to another wild ride of an R.J. Tsarov play in Trust Fund Babies at The Pickery.
  • Jackalyn (Raphaelle, top) and Patrick (Jonathan Frick) having a fling is just one of the many intricate sub-plots that add up to another wild ride of an R.J. Tsarov play in Trust Fund Babies at The Pickery.

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