Losing the Way

Superheroes gab and gab at the Maverick

Every so often, my editor will actually make a change to something I write. Sometimes this involves adding a joke about Genet or Hayek's Road to Serfdom—which takes a real gift for comedy—but usually it takes the form of lopping off my first paragraph because, he says, it's a false start, meandering and feeling its way and doing nothing but warming up to the real beginning at the second graf.

About 45 minutes into American Way at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton, after quite a lot of warming up, the observant observer catches what will shape up to be the weighty theme: the gang of superheroes we've been getting to know (and know) have been attacked in their union hideout, in a manner drawing explicitly on 9/11. Surely playwright Jeremy Gable will have something meaty to say about our freedoms, and about war, and about meting out truth and justice to those who've actually hurt us. There's a moment when a character suggests going after "something small" before taking on the real (and harder to rout) enemy, and the more politically minded will think of Afghanistan, if they're not harking back to Grenada.

Then the curtain comes up and the cast takes its bow. It turns out the play is a one-act.

Photo courtesy Maverick Theater
Photo courtesy Maverick Theater

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Superheroes are so hot right now, and American Way owes a lot to your mainstream flicks like The Incredibles (how will Gable's Crescent Wonder—played upper-crustily by a good Jay Lewis—who draws his power from the rays of the moon, react to the indignities of retirement?) and the somewhat more offbeat ones like Ben Stiller's 1999 Mystery Men, which featured Pee Wee Herman as the Spleen and Janeane Garofalo as the Bowler. "Mandible Maiden," who can catch bullets in her teeth and looks scrumptious in purple velour, seems drawn right from their ranks.

Gable's got a gift for very funny lines. "You saved her life!" an always-outraged FireBang tells Crescent Wonder when commiserating on a slightly botched rescue where CW didn't even get a thank-you kiss. "Oh, but what good is a life," CW volleys, wearily and defeated, "when you're wearing a Band-Aid?"

There is also an exchange on thank-you sex.

But despite his knack for funny, Gable takes us from an unexpected attack and a mere moment on its consequences to a long back-and-forth on whether FireBang and Mandible Maiden will rekindle their romance.

And then curtain. What the fuck?

The Maverick Theater is a blast to visit. Its high Deco ceilings have been lovingly tended, you can drink beer at your table, and they choose homegrown actors in homegrown plays. When South Coast Rep delivers a stinker, there's not really an excuse; when the Maverick does, it's experimenting. And, honest to God, I think that's swell.

Starting next week, they've got Night of the Living Dead, with survivors stuck in an abandoned farmhouse amid an army of flesh-eating zombies. I'll be taking everyone I can think of, and remembering Ronald Reagan.