Rude Guerrilla's morality tales aren't dirty enough
Though not coined by the Catholic Church until sometime around 600 A.D., the Seven Deadly Sins have been regulating theater's pulse for centuries. That's because drama has always been about character and conflict. And nothing sows discord like people driven to extremes by greed, pride, envy, lust and wrath (yeah, yeah, gluttony and sloth are also on the list, but victimless crimes, no matter how sloppy or decadent, hardly make for exciting dramatic fodder).
So although the Seven Deadlies are immoral signposts lining the route to hell, rare is the play, politician or interesting person not consumed by one, or several, of these all-too-human foibles. Rude Guerrilla's mounting of a mostly original collection of seven short plays, The Seven Deadly Sins is obviously a salute to these examples of self-destruction. And it makes sense: no theater in this county is as well-situated to stage plays devoted to rage, avarice, self-indulgence and sex as the fiercely adventurous Santa Ana troupe. The safe bet is that a group of plays about vice, in the hands of a company that's never shied away from profane and titillating territory, would be as potentially explosive as a caravan of Hummers filled with crossbow-wielding crack whores: something wicked has got to happen.
Yet The Seven Deadly Sins is disappointingly timid and bloodless, if not downright boring. Structure is one problem. None of the seven pieces exceeds 15 minutes, preventing most from either establishing a rhythm or feeling properly fleshed-out.
But its content—or lack thereof—is where the real trouble lies. Given any other title but The Seven Deadly Sins, you'd be hard-pressed to explain why these plays are even on the same bill. There's no through-line, no unifying theme. Worse, the plays themselves, though ostensibly about the most immoral of human actions, come off terribly nonlethal and non-sinful. Instead of raw emotion, base impulses and heightened stakes, we get obviousness, trite Sunday-school lessons, questionable arguments and a rather wimpy collection of vices.
The obviousness is supplied by Steven Parker Jr.'s homage to pride, Airus Equinus, which—surprise!—suggests pride always goes before the fall. The easy moralizing is found in Dave Barton's wrath-influenced What Is the Word. Though interestingly written, Barton's point doesn't seem any more incisive than how one culture's water-boarding is another's beheading, and though practitioners of each call them different names, they both really fucking suck.
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At least those plays get their vices right. Robert M. Tully's Sloth, though quite funny, actually works against the argument that laziness is a sin. Come on—doesn't an eternity of beating off to porn, munching on Cheetos and downing Coca-Cola seem like quite an alluring afterlife? Even one of the more novel pieces, David Johnston's Yes, Yes, Yes, in which a middle-aged man and a youthful male stripper get all worked up over James Joyce's Ulysses, conveys as much lusty swagger as a pap smear.
The two most compelling pieces are R.J. Romero's spookily primordial piece (there are 23 words in the title; that's ridiculous) and Ken Urban's remarkably succinct mythical deconstruction, Tecmessa. Though the most artfully crafted and well-staged pieces of the night, even they treat their sins as mere afterthoughts. None of the pieces is interested in exploring or explaining its respective vice, let alone rolling around in the dirt with them. That reluctance winds up stripping the sins of both their cautionary and seductive properties. The sins aren't sins, at least not the kind worth courting damnation for. And that means there are no sinners. And a play without sinners has no hope of redemption.
Then again, maybe that's the point of the whole show: The seven deadly sins aren't so deadly—or so sinful—after all. As a commentary on an outdated morality designed to exert a struggling religion's hold on its populace through fear and guilt, that sentiment's groovy enough. But gripping, compelling theater it ain't.
The Seven Deadly Sins at the Rude Guerrilla Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688; www.rudeguerrilla.org. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Through Aug. 30. $15-$20.