Thanks to Cal State Fullerton's bracing Southern California premiere of Deviant Craft, you at last have the chance to be greeted at a theater by a mute, hermaphroditic biochemist with a shaved head who's offering you a piece of a molecular structure Erector set. It's an opportunity that really should not be missed. Terry Walcutt's bold staging of W. David Hancock's interactive anarchy about inmates at a Maine prison struggling their way through Shakespeare's The Tempest thrusts you into the action as soon as you step into the Arena Theater. You are immediately surrounded by the inmates' in-progress arts-and-crafts fair, which continues—with live rats and virtual-reality goggles—until smarmy group facilitator Dr. Eliot Snow (Chet Cole) beckons you to your seat with a glib speech about how "theater underscores the futility of rebellion." An unctuous video from Dr. Snow's "dramatherapy" foundation oozes from monitors around the theater at unexpected moments, punctuating his philosophy that theater is the ideal antidote for rebellious, anti-social behavior.
Compelled to recite "predetermined lines at a predetermined place and time," Dr. Snow believes, inmates will realize their own lack of options and the futility of railing against what is "best" for them.
That said, director Walcutt and his razor-sharp cast spend the next two hours slashing this premise to shreds—mixing improv drawn from audience participation with everything from an onstage drug overdose to a sudden interruption by a pizza delivery guy. In the process, they demolish the premise of passive, predetermined scripted theater. The result is a memorable evening of wrenchingly tragic hilarity brimming with rage and hope, as the inmates alternately battle one another and their personal demons under the increasingly brutal guidance of Dr. Snow. As The Tempest's Ariel poignantly notes to Prospero during their shipwrecked performance, "Hell is empty, and all the devils are here."
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Deviant Craft at Cal State Fullerton's Arena Theatre, Nutwood Ave. & State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 278-3371. Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. $6-$8.