We the Losers
If this is the face of the American Left, the future is gonna be a whole lot of ugly. Nicky Silver's The Altruists is a bitterly funny excoriation of a squatful of privileged, Caucasian, poseur activists who have a Molotov cocktail and a slogan for everything but their own shallowness, loneliness and hypocrisy. This Cal State Fullerton production (directed by Todd Kulczyk) is more snark than bark and more satirical farce than farcical satire—a fuck-you-and-you-and-you screed that, like its characters, makes up for nagging superficiality with fire and feistiness. "If we yell long enough and loud enough," declaims one black-clad anarchist, "there's no way they can ignore us!"
If you've ever taken to the streets to fight the power, you've met these kids: Ethan the philandering lefty stud (Josh Odor), Sydney the bourgeois pig (a finely shrill Sarah Petty, explaining, "I'm not homophobic, I'm just afraid of lesbians"), Cybil the dyke warrior (Hattie Davis), and poor demure Ronald (M. Logan Sledge) the social worker who loves too much.
There's a murder in there as well as a protest, some mount-the-soapbox flashback sermons (a nice touch, that) and Ronald's cringe-a-minute romance with male prostitute Lance (an artfully guileless Rob Hahn). But it's really all just window dressing for one long, pull-no-punches diatribe against the failings of the Left. It's telling that we never see any do-gooders who aren't rich, white and neurotic to the point you want to hose them down with Paxil.
It's a painfully on-target kick in the fleshy bits, but it could kick a little harder. The cast makes sure Silver's withering sarcasm never lets up, but The Altruists' best scenes mine the poignancy hidden behind the politics (credit Hahn and Sledge with some touching tenderness).
Appropriately, this Altruists is almost as cartoon-like as the characters it satirizes, and (as a cartoon should be) it's surely-they-can't-mean-me hilarious. It's easy to laugh at these losers, but it's the under-stated instances of raw humanity that put the power in the polemic and make us realize who we're really laughing at. We have met these losers, and they are we.
Preceding Altruists is Craig Lucas' What I Meant Was, also directed by Kulczyk. The ensemble plays this tight, dysfunctional-family drama like a sitcom, submerging much of the play's most affecting moments beneath big (if uncomfortable) laughs—perhaps not quite what Lucas meant to say.
The Altruists and What I Meant Was at the Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 278-3371. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 6:30 p.m. $10; $5 for students. Through May 20.
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