In the 1980s, people became Republicans, exorcised social conscience, made fortunes from questionable investments, snorted wheelbarrowsful of cocaine and listened to very bad music. Chalk up continued interest in the period to nostalgia for its perceived excesses by people too young to understand how dreadful it truly was. But how can the writers of Coke Stories—a choppy collection of monologues and scene fragments produced by the Hunger Artists Theatre Company—justify wasting their time on that vacuous decade when the 1990s sorely deserve a critique before they're over?
They attempt an answer by introducing us to characters in the '80s and then flash-forwarding to their lives in the '90s. But most of the pieces draw only the slimmest connections between the two decades. The potential compare/contrast that could have made for an interesting evening becomes like the decade it represents: undisciplined and insignificant.
But that's what happens when you assume that just mentioning '80s and '90s pop references frees you from having to say anything deep about them. Director Melissa Petro doesn't help by limiting much of her action stage left or cluttering scenes with overly lit people sitting around pulling focus. The loud, intrusive soundtrack plays throughout, making it difficult to focus on what's being said. Jason McBeath crackles with intensity in two monologues that are unfortunately far too similar to each other, and Norman Major III's Internet-porn king subtly carries the baggage of his dorky teenage years. Kimberly M. Fisher is excellent in several roles, but she especially glimmers as a maid of honor stunned when the bride makes a pass at her.
Those moments—when the writing and acting rise to the occasion—give a glimpse of how good this could have been if only more thought and imagination had been put into it.
Coke Stories at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company, 204 E. Fourth St., Ste. I, Santa Ana, (714) 547-9100. Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. Through Aug. 8. $8-$12.
Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.