Rude Guerrilla’s Helltown Buffet isn’t quite ready to serve
One of the greatest pitfalls a writer should avoid is sending a piece of material out too early—a novel that hasn’t quite shed its fat, a poem that’s still too cryptic, a play that needs more dimension. It’s a tough call; writers are usually so steeped in their own worlds that they’re unable to stand outside them. That’s what editors—and friends who’ll really tell you the truth—are for.
The fact that playwright Aurelio Locsin changed his play’s title from Consent to Helltown Buffet only months after it had been advertised seems fitting after seeing the Rude Guerrilla production—it certainly feels like a work in progress, and it’s unclear how either title relates to the content in a thematic way.
Or how the content relates to anything, for that matter. Starting off with a surreal mime, the play opens with actors gorging themselves at a Hometown Buffet. Restaurant manager Benjie (David Tran) is then convinced by his lover, Paco (Brian Salero), to close the eatery early and serve up a rich person as food to a group of homeless. That the details of how this occurred, and the plausibility of it, are left out isn’t as troubling (we get it, we’re watching symbolism) as the fact that “eat the rich” has been done to, well, death. But that doesn’t matter because so little of what we’ve just seen has to do with what will follow.
In short (I’ll try), Paco is actually a novice demon trying to earn his horns by corrupting an innocent, as directed by lead demon, Gram, and Hell’s queen, Madame Loveless. Paco realizes he loves Benjie after a few weeks of dating, however, and although he’s just gotten his boytoy to engage in a heinous crime, he tries to stop the process, but it’s too late—Benjie is killed by Gram, who isn’t keen on Paco turning tail. Both Paco and Benjie then travel to the afterlife, where Paco tries to enter Filipino purgatory with his lover, and after dilly-dallying around with some Filipino spirits (a hilarious Alexander Price and Trina Estanislao), Paco and Benjie are reincarnated 2,000 years in the past in the Philippines—Paco as a sacred rock, Benjie as a priest. Benjie then becomes enveloped by rock Paco for all eternity.
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That’s right. No acid needed for this one.
Fortunately, there’s much more going on in the show than the bizarre, random storyline—and Locsin (who also directed) gets big props for being extremely original with most of his content; while one might be left scratching one’s head over what the hell is going on, the play is certainly never boring. Locsin is most successful when it comes to his witty, poignant one-liners. Pop-culture jokes about Microsoft being a sponsor of hell and Apple running heaven and such ponderances as “the last thing you see before you die is your whole life flashing before you, but the first thing you see after death is the life you wished you’d lived” hit their mark. Unfortunately, before we have time to really think about any symbolism or cultural insight (a heap of fascinating Filipino traditions are on display), the play rushes us on at a screwball pace. It’s clear that Locsin just tried to stuff too much into one little box, and the result is not the satisfied feeling of a buffet, but rather a rumbling for more—more dimension, more character, fewer kitchen sinks. Locsin has a lot to say and a unique perspective—he just needs to give us more meat in the meal.
Helltown Buffet at Rude Guerrilla, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547 4688; www.rudeguerrilla.org. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. (special Oct. 16 performance, 8 p.m.). Through Oct. 18. $10-$20.