Nothing Funny

Magnetic. Photo by Ken Howard/SCR

It's easy to dis the storefront theaters in Orange County, but South Coast Repertory is supposed to be something special. They get all those illustrious patrons, and they have those beautifully luminous sets, and Equity folk from LA come down to grace their stage. They commission amazingly fucked-up works like last year's Mr. Marmalade (probably the best thing I've ever seen on a stage, and I've seen Flock of Goo Goo!), which wreaked envy on the decadent souls of this paper's degenerates.

Then they pull shit like Nothing Sacred.

The "darkly comic" take on Turgenev's Fathers and Sons is excruciatingly dull: languidly paced, sometimes poorly acted, and with each joke labored and obvious. The Russian gentleman is miffed when his butler answers a rhetorical question, telling him, "Don't assume every question I ask requires an answer from you!" Moments later, he asks a question—and the butler doesn't answer!

Our plot centers on Arkady, a stiff, unformed ball of human-shaped mucus (with horrifying, Ivana-yellow hair) played with arms frozen at his sides and a petulant voice by Daniel Blinkoff. Arkady is platonically in love with Bazarov (a magnetic Eric D. Steinberg), a wretch of a Nihilist who lures misfits to him with a cruel hand and cruel tongue while they prostrate themselves before him.

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Everyone is weak, weak, weak, except for Bazarov, of course. He's just the devil massing his army of nonbelievers, although he's sort of sorry at the end.

For a play about Meaning, Nothing Sacred falls woefully short. Even The Big Lebowski had a better handle on Nihilism. "Nihilists!" John Goodman exclaimed in that. "Fuck me! I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos!" Nihilists don't believe in anything, you see; they only want to tear things down. The first thing they should have torn down was the script.

Written by George F. Walker in the late '80s, Nothing Sacred is repetitive (we hear at least 20 times how much Arkady and his father love each other; will Arkady choose his father's Tradition or his friend's Rebellion???), overlong, overmelodramatic (Arkady proclaims his love for Bazarov's mistress the first time he meets her, kvetching and whining and rending his hair when Bazarov says that, um, actually he'd rather his friend didn't bone his girlfriend, thanks), and too-talky/no-action, and none of the language is particularly compelling, neither beautiful nor poetic. There are probably two funny lines in more than two hours.

A couple of performances make some of the play at least tolerable. Hal Landon Jr. is very funny as the poker-faced butler, and John Vickery gives pathos to the mincing fop Pavel, who wants nothing more than gentlemanly Honor—and Love. But it's Eric D. Steinberg's Bazarov who owns the two-plus hours of your life if for some reason you choose to spend them at SCR. Mysteriously handsome and with a rolling baritone, he tugs and pulls and toys with his playthings, a sad sociopath who wishes he had a heart. The fact that he also uses his limbs—curling up on a bench here, towering threateningly over some sadsack there—one-ups just about everyone else.

For the rest of them? Lebowski, as usual, has something to say: Are these the Nazis, Walter? No, Donny, these men are Nihilists. There's nothing to be afraid of.

NOTHING SACRED AT SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, 655 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 708-5555. TUES., 7:30 P.M.; WED.-FRI., 8 P.M.; SAT., 2:30 & 8 P.M.; SUN., 2:30 & 7:30 P.M. THROUGH OCT. 8. $20-$60.

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