But there have been a few duds along the way. And while Larva Boy, Stages’ latest world premiere, isn’t a complete misfire, it needs substantial honing before it’s loaded into another theatrical chamber.
David Macary’s play doesn’t lack imagination or incendiary material—any play that hinges on mental illness, incest and matricide contains ample fireworks. But its grisly, quasi-Gothic nature is continually hamstrung by its main plot thrust (a producer of B-grade horror films hires a social misfit to write an apocalyptic script about an alien invasion of Earth) and weird tangents—specifically, repeated references to Watergate (it’s set in 1974).
It is also hindered by a story that doesn’t truly belong to its pivotal character: the aforementioned misfit, Larvell Boyd (a convincing Connor Keene). For its first 30 minutes, the play is owned by type-A Hollywood producer Margo Draper (a suitably feisty Rose London), a Nixon-obsessed stress case who endures a litany of oddball characters pitching the kind of films that might even make Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Entertainment fame (Redneck Zombies, Surf Nazis Must Die) think twice. Only when Draper’s assistant (a solid Adria Saldivar) convinces her to meet Boyd, a college classmate, does the play find its focus—at the expense of Draper, who all but disappears after listening to the writer’s fantastic pitch.
The play then careens into a huge left turn, as we’re led into Boyd’s murky world dominated by his demented mother, Verleen (a spooky Karen Harris), and a past that makes his nightmarish script seem tame.
The awkward construction is matched by an uneven tone. At times, the language and gloomy intensity feel like something out of H.P. Lovecraft, particularly the haunting opening scene and when Boyd delivers his pitch. But when the procession of cartoony hacks pitch their crappy ideas, things feel like a goofy spoof on Hollywood wheeling and dealing. And whether the Watergate through line is a red herring gone way wrong or a metaphor for the demons that plague flawed men, it’s just plain distracting.
The script isn’t helped by Philip Brickey’s clumsy staging. Long blackouts and cumbersome scene changes stall the momentum, and he has apparently given his 14-member cast free rein to create characters who rarely seem to occupy the same world, which amplifies the tonal dissonance.
The cumulative effect makes it difficult to care about the deeply troubled man at the play’s center. And that drains the blood from the meat of Macary’s play, making the revelations of Boyd’s horrific past and his gruesome transformation less harrowing and believable.
Macary needs to orient his compass toward either Edgar Allen Poe or a zanier version of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow (and here’s a vote for the former; Larva Boy is most gripping when it aims for the jugular instead of the funny bone). But currently, Larva Boy oscillates too frequently between those two poles. Unlike many a new play, the writing doesn’t suffer from a lack of direction—it simply has too many.
Larva Boy at StagesTheatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-4484; www.stagesoc.org. Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. Through Oct. 11. $12.