The Rude Guerrilla loves Brit playwright Mark Ravenhill-a man who has been called the U.K.'s most shocking modern dramatist—and since this is my third Ravenhill/RG production review (joining Some Explicit Polaroids and Sleeping Around), I've come to understand, at least in part, director Dave Barton's apparent obsession with Ravenhill's usually gritty work: It's exciting and boundary-shattering, to say the least.
But Ravenhill is one of those writers who often likes to withhold information—perhaps he claims artistic prerogative on this, as so many have-and even those of us who don't mind our drama messy, or dangling about, need some fundamental information in order to get the literal picture, not just the abstractions.
Ravenhill will have none of that. In The Cut, we're instantly thrown into an enigmatic office scene in which a man in an orange prison jump suit begs his by-the-book oppressor Paul (Bryan Jennings) to torture him using the fatal "cut" technique—some type of spinal-cord butchery without anesthesia. Paul offers his captive some alternative choices—going to a university or to prison—but he refuses, asking that Paul allow him to take them both on a momentary Zen trek into nothingness. They meditate together on the office floor, and Paul unlocks his vault of guilt over his brutal profession, which makes Paul even more reluctant to administer the cut. But he soon relents, and the man in orange ends up a bloody mess.
Back home, Paul loses his shizz when his English British wife lets on that she knows he's involved with this barbaric government torture system. They also spend some time barking about why they don't have sex anymore (because Paul's guilt is turning him into a crybaby basket case), and by the closing of the third scene, Paul has become the new man in orange, his own son now the oppressor from a new regime that has rid the world of the cut, and is sending the cutters through tribunals.
Among these shadows of a story are some topical themes: the internal conflicts faced by those who administer torture; the relatively little difference between old oppressive regimes and new ones; and the whole despondent "nothing ever changes" idea of life just looping around, with man constantly reinventing the wheel. The problem is that these messages aren't hidden within any metaphorical framework—they're right out in the open. We long for a story—without knowing exactly what "the cut" is, or why the first man in orange wants it so badly, and devoid of anything concrete about the world we're viewing, we're simply left with disembodied abstractions and proclamations. Why, then, use up a talented cast and stylish set when all one really needs is a lectern and spotlight? Call me when the rally starts.
The Cut at Rude Guerrilla, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688; www.rudeguerrilla.org. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; also Sun., Feb. 3, 2:30 p.m. Through Feb. 9. $20.