Photo by Jami McCoyConsidering my extreme anti-war stance these days, it seemed almost too perfect that I was sent to a black comedy about a small defense contractor's fight to submit the best and final offer (thus the title, BAFO) on a bogus military contract. But Tom Strelich's dance around defense contracts and conservatism doesn't prove any point so much as create a philosophical mosh pit of revelation, prejudice, pride and belief systems.
Ably directed by Sharyn Case and finely executed by the Hunger Artists, BAFO begins slowly—but expectedly so. I mean, these are four white, middle-aged men (Paul A. Castellano, Mark Palkoner, Allen Casey, Alex Dorman) in bad sleeves and ties talking about military planes and contracts and the true underbelly of defense spending—making money, not protecting our country. It's not a shocker; we all know the government and the people they hire to make Blackhawks don't give a shit about peacekeeping. And the exchanges among these hardly malicious, old-school defense-industry types are what you'd expect—lots of potty mouth, white egocentricity and stress about retaining their status-quo lifestyles.
Enter disgruntled employee P.K. (Jay Michael Fraley). With his arrival, which includes picking people off with his AK-47 and a shot gun, the ride gets faster—and much smarter. It's dangerous to describe your play as "politically incorrect," as the program says of this one. So let's just say that when Fraley confronts black Human Resource executive Shokanje (Vivian Vanderwerd) about all that black-vs.-white stuff everybody carries around with them but never mentions, well, it's fucking great. She kicks his ass, he kicks hers, and the scary truth rises to the top—which is that it's all true, depending on your point of view.
Fraley's fine ability to shift from charming sociopath to whimpering victim to enraged murderer and Vanderwerd's focused passion, which helps her steer clear of the tired caricature of a pissed-off, mouthy black woman, are highlights. Likewise, the four white wimps each gets his turn to air life grievances, pleads his case for not getting their heads blown off, and displays moments of courage that seem familiar and common to all. The performances are often moving, especially the usually sarcastic Castellano's reserved and earnest plea for sanity from the shootist.
It still might sound like stuff you've seen before. But the directing is so spot-on, the cast so stellar, and the writing so intelligent that, even though you won't leave feeling you've had a glorious visit with the Dalai Lama, you will be glad somebody expertly hurled across the stage a whole lotta stuff you've been sittin' on for a while.
BAFO at the Hunger Artists Theatre, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 680-6803. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Through March 9. $12-$15.