Bond, Edward Bond

Through a glass, rudely. Photo courtsey of Rude Guerrilla Theatre Co.

It's about time Rude Guerrilla Theatre Co. gave us It'sthe End of the World As We Know It.That's what the company is calling its U.S. premieres of two one-acts by Edward Bond.

Since exploding onto the English theater in the early '60s, Bond has prowled the grimmest edges of British theater like a snarling junkyard dog. Instead of the lofty speechmaking and easily comprehensible, linear plays of respectable stiff-upper-lip English playwrights, he's favored form-tweaking, whiff-of-the-Apocalypse plays that, for 40 years, have argued that the world is going to shit in large part because so many people believe in the inherent legitimacy of the status quo.

His radicalism and stylistic invention made him big news in British drama until the early '80s and the rise of Dame Thatcher and fears of cuts in government arts subsidies. Fed up with the commercial British stage, Bond chose a form of self-exile, working primarily with continental European companies and a renowned children's education theater in Birmingham, England.

Though not big in the West End, Bond is a patron saint of the in-yer-face playwrights who surfaced in 1990s Britain, with acclaimed writers like Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill all but anointing him the patriarch of the movement.

Rude Guerrilla has long championed those writers, which makes it all the more interesting that more than a decade after forming the company is tackling these two contemporary Bond one-acts.

Based on this production, advancing age hasn't tempered Bond's bite. Even if it doesn't seem like Bond is saying anything particularly new (the world is still going to shit, if you haven't noticed) both plays show that he can still say that very, very well.

The first one-act is The Balancing Act,a 2003 pitch-black dark comedy that follows a Typhoid Mary-like homeless man, Nelson, who seems to trigger violence and death everywhere he turns. But even amid stabbings, starvation and gruesome auto accidents, there is raucous humor and trenchant insight—which, coupled with Bond's always-engaging ear for dialogue and resistance to typical theatrical formality (characters snap fingers to cue lights; dead characters dance flamenco) make for a breathtaking ride. Granted, the point is a downer: When you ain't got nothing, you've still got plenty to lose, whether it's your dignity, your freedom or your life.

Director Scott Barber's cast is uniformly strong, but anyone who thinks David Beatty's larceny-minded one-legged dancer doesn't steal the show didn't see the same show I did.

The Chairs, first produced in France last year, echoes The Balancing Act'stheme of the economically oppressed continually savaged by whatever powers might be. But it's less funny. It is more of an insular, self-contained piece, however, with a woman living in desperate fear of an authoritarian government as she scrambles to keep secret the existence of the man she's raised: a hapless 27-year-old stuck in a childlike state.

Where others of his generation have been bludgeoned by their gay lovers (Joe Orton), gravitated toward film or quasi-retirement (Harold Pinter, Arnold Wesker) or simply disappeared (John Arden), Bond remains prolific and committed to the theater. He's still doing the work, even as the world grows shittier and shittier.

It's the End of the World As We Know It at Rude Guerrilla, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Also Thurs., Aug. 9, 8 p.m. Through Aug. 11. $10-$20.

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