Like much of his work, Howard Korder's 1990 play Search and Destroy is about America—about the fears and weaknesses that drive this ambitious, prosperous nation. Take his main character, Martin Mirkheim, a shady producer setting up circuses across South Florida. What Mirkheim really wants is to make a film about a book that is his On the Road, his Catcher in the Rye, his Martin Eden. It's called Daniel Strong, and while we don't learn a lot about it, it's apparently a simplistic Horatio Algerish story of a lonely boy who rises above his trials to make it big.
It's a very American tale, and Mirkheim wants the rights to it. But lacking the cash, he undergoes a series of desperate maneuvers to acquire the option, including meeting the book's author, self-help guru Dr. Waxling. Waxling only wants to know two things: not whether Mirkheim truly understands the tale, but whether Mirkheim has the money to finance the film and whether Mirkheim is sleeping with the doctor's woman.
Mirkheim's life and Korder's script explode quickly into chaos—cocaine deals, Honduran drug lords, cop shootings and car chases. The story becomes a movie script that is almost impossibly complex, violent and seedy. It's also visionary: in just one of the play's prescient moments, a character predicts that fear industries—companies that produce personal-security paraphernalia—will soon become the economy's red-hot growth sector.
The complexity, violence and greed eventually get to the characters themselves. Kim (a very strong Joseph Hutcheson) notes that he makes a hundred grand as a consultant, owns condos and gets laid every night. But, he observes sadly, he has never done one good deed. But then, he wonders, what has a good deed ever earned anyone? We are bred to power.
Director Sharyn Case's fluid, sensitive style is perfect for this large, clumsy and brilliant play. Jay Michael Fraley's Mirkheim should betray earlier a bit of the ironic strength he finds at play's end, and I wish that Vincent Joseph Baca—who does a good job in several roles—was a more powerful Waxling.
But these are quibbles. Case's only real error occurs in her director's notes. There she asserts that Sept. 11 produced "changes in our way of life" that make the characters and situations in Korder's play "even more tragic and ridiculous. Overnight, how painfully shallow all of those 'important values' of just a few years ago have become."
I respect Case, but she's wrong. Those "important values" are the animating forces behind our bombing of 7 million innocent Afghani citizens—greed for oil and pride in American hegemony. His script and our bombing are about the possibility that one small corner of this globe can live in luxury, wasting the greatest percentage of the world's resources and isolated from the rest of the world.
No, Korder didn't write this play about these events. But the heart of darkness that beats in the chest of Martin Mirkheim and the rest of the characters is the same muscle growing progressively weaker each day we abide in the ridiculous propaganda that this is a war about freedom; it's a war about oil. It's not about honor and dignity, but a sadistic willingness to terrorize an entire nation because of the actions of a few thousand sociopaths who dared fuck with the king of the hill. Because you don't fuck with the king. For as in Search and Destroy, if you're not strong in this world, you're weak. And if you're weak, you're less than human: you're a corpse.
Search and Destroy at Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Through Dec. 2. $12-$15.
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