In the past 10 years, Orange County storefront theaters have suffered no shortage of new plays by local writers. There have been big plays and short plays, musicals and monologues. Plays about punk rock, coal miners, romantic poets—even one in which the playwright asked the audience to pardon his penis. Some have been good, some have been unbearable; most were in between.
But never has a county storefront—or any local theater, for that matter—witnessed a more ambitious or genuinely unique play than Johnna Adams' frequently mesmerizing and occasionally ridiculous The Sacred Geometry of S&M Porn. One of Southern California's most dedicated playwrights, Adams has struck a peculiarly deep well of Texas Tea with this one, and though it needs refinement, it feels like a breakout work.
The first act finds us hanging out with Mike Wallace, a fire-and-brimstone alcoholic revival preacher named Judith Christ (the always solid Jill Cary Martin), and her dumb-as-dirt white-trash Texas family. Christ is clashing with Wallace (Jonathan Talmadge, wielding a creepy oversized puppet), who is trying to expose her as a moneygrubbing, whiskey-guzzling fraud. Meanwhile, her son, Tobey (a sparklingly dynamic Scott Barber), whom she abandoned 16 years ago, is developing a cult based on hardcore porno magazines, sadomasochism, and a deliriously rambling philosophy that incorporates everything from cosmogony and geometry to group sex and metaphysical gibberish.
The act is sprawling, richly perverse and twistedly funny, and its blend of Revelation with Texas trash is always entertaining, but it doesn't come close to preparing you for a second act that truly has to be experienced to be appreciated.
This is a very good play, but not yet a great one. As extraordinary as the second act is, it doesn't develop the plot or characters—and near-lethal logistical problems, a too-obvious climax and a very unfortunate video of a happy cult family undermine the action. All this, plus ubiquitous references to CBS as some kind of modern Illuminati, intrudes upon and obscures the truly fascinating and frightening part of Adams' play: the nature of religious ecstasy and the lengths ordinary folks are willing to go to get a taste.
Still, this is a play that misses only because it fires so many bullets. They don't all hit their targets, but the sheer audacity of the barrage, and the ones that hit dead center, make this one of the most intriguing plays—and one of the most engrossing messes—these eyes have ever seen on a local stage.
THE SACRED GEOMETRY OF S&M PORN AT RUDE GUERRILLA THEATER COMPANY, 200 N. BROADWAY, SANTA ANA, (714) 547-4688. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2:30 P.M. THROUGH NOV. 12. $10-$18.