Seeing a show at the Furious Theatre in Pasadena is a virtual guarantee of a 
brilliantly acted and staged production. Dámaso Rodriguez and his furiously 
fearless band of thespians invariably pick edgy and topical pieces of writing 
which they bring to vivid life upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse, and Canned 
Peaches in Syrup is no exception.  Set in the not so distant future, in a world 
where food and water are so scarce that half the remaining inhabitants of our 
planet have turned to cannibalism to survive, Canned Peaches is, as they say, 
as topical as today’s headlines. It’s also an outrageously funny comedy, and a 
love story a la Romeo and Juliet to boot.

As the play opens we meet (in starkly beautiful silhouette against an orange 
sky) Pa, Ma, and Julie, a family of vegetarians (the other half of those still alive), 
looking for fresh pastures.  Vegetarians are “the chosen people,” they proclaim 
in their Oklahoma dust bowl accents and ragged garb. A tall and imposing 
figure arrives, striking fear in their hearts. “They call me Blind Bastard,” he tells 
them portentously. “Why is that?” they ask. “Because I’m blind!” (As you can 
see, this is a comedy.)  Ma, whose faith remains intact despite the bleakness of 
her life and surroundings, declares him a holy man.  Life may be fucked up, she 
says, but “God fucked it up to test us.” One way her life is fucked up now is 
that her “shit is blue” instead of the usual vegetarian green, and what could 
that portend?  “God’s trying to tell me something,” she tells Pa, who replies 
wryly, “There’s easier ways than turning your shit blue.”

This vegetarian family’s cannibal counterparts are Bill, Heather, Rog, and Scab, 
looking like something out of Mad Max. Their motto is “flesh for flesh,” and their 
language makes the vegetarians sound like a Disney family by comparison, 
and next to the cannibals, the veggies look just about ready for dinner with 
the president. That is to say, these man-eaters are the filthiest looking and 
sounding folk you’re likely to see on an L.A. stage this year, or any other. “For 
fuck’s sake, we eat people!” one of them exclaims, defensively…or proudly.

Upon learning that there are vegetarians (i.e. food for hungry cannibals) 
nearby, their interest is piqued, but when Blind Bastard warns the cannibals 
that the veggies have a shotgun (and quite possibly bullets), they decide to 
send Rog to reconnoiter. Though Rog swears to Pa, Ma, and Julie that he’s a 
veggie, a disbelieving Pa threatens to shoot him dead. Julie, however, looks 
into his “weird” eyes and sees not only someone she can trust but someone any 
love/sex-starved veggie teen girl could love.  Reg feels the same, though in his 
own case, the stakes are higher. Struck by a thunderbolt of love at first sight, 
he twangs, “I can’t eat her! She’s beautiful!” and yet another R&J fall head 
over heals for each other.

Don’t expect the course of true love to run smoothly, though.  The cannibals 
are not about to give up their quest for meat so easily.

Playwright Alex Jones has written a seriocomic warning of the dangers of 

global warning, pollution, war, and all the other threats to our planet, to which 
director Rodriguez has applied his usual magic, abetted by a cast that couldn’
t be better. The Furious Theatre’s company of actors is small (just 13 in all) 
which means that every Furious production benefits from the best of the 
company’s ensemble as well as guest artists who bring their unique gifts to 
each show.

Furious members appearing in Canned Peaches are Nick Cernoch, Katie 
Davies, Shawn Lee, and Eric Pargac.  They are joined by Dana Kelly, Jr., Robert 
Pescovitz (a Furious regular), Laura Raynor, and Libby West.

Cernoch (who’s served nobly backstage and in the booth for the pas few 
productions) returns to the Furious stage in an absolutely superb performance 
as Scab, a Cannibal so weakened by disease (he is called Scab with good 
reason) that he never moves from his earthen bed.  Cernoch brings out every 
layer of beauty and poignancy in the horribly infected Scab, who is protests 
that, “I’m not dying.  I just need a good wash.” No matter how terribly he 
suffers, Scab will not give up.  “It’s still life,” he tells Bill, played by the wonderful 
Pargac (on a roll this year with three formidable Furious performances in a 
row).  The scene in which Scab entreats Bill to just “hold me” is the kind of scene 
that gets shown at the Oscars as the nominees’ names are read. Exquisite 
work by both actors.

Raynor, as Ma, matches Cernoch and Pargac every step of the way. In a 
world of violence and starvation, hope shines from her eloquent eyes in a 
gentle and powerful performance. As Pa, Pescovitz downplays his leading 
man good looks, becoming a Henry Fonda as Tom Joad for our time. And 
Katie Davies is adorable wide eyed innocence in a world gone mad.  She tells 
Rog (without irony), “You make me feel great!  I’ve only thrown up twice 
today!”  Ma and Pa are equally delighted that their daughter has found love 
with a wandering veggie. “I never thought I’d see her fuck!” exclaims an 
overjoyed Ma.  “She’s growin’ up,” explains a philosophic Pa.  Since Raynor, 
Pescovitz, and Davies clearly love the characters whom they are bringing to 
life, the humor never sounds forced or crass, and the vulgarity of their 
language is softened by the genuineness of their work.

Kelly makes the enigmatic giant Blind Bastard alternately sympathetic, scary, 
and dangerous, and Lee (memorable in Impending Rupture of the Belly) does 
fine work once again as the most improbable of romantic suitors. Finally, West 
(one of our busiest and most versatile actresses) is the scruffiest, raunchiest, 
filthiest Heather (of all names!) you’re likely to see on stage…ever!  That the 
same actress who embodied the small town beauty of Madge in Picnic and 
the Hollywood glamour of Lily Garland in Twentieth Century could play a 
character who makes Sigourney Weaver’s in Alien seem like a girl from finishing 
school is nothing short of miraculous. (One of my favorite exchanges is 
between Rog and Heather. Rog: “They’re good people!”  Heather: “They’re 
supposed to be a good meal!”)  

A Furious production is destined to benefit from the finest design team around, 
and Canned Peaches in Syrup is no exception. From Melissa Teoh’s striking 
scenic design, which makes every image a gorgeous tableau, to Dan Jenkins’ 
mood-enhancing lighting which scorches the stage in a blaze of orange, to 
Christy M. Hauptman’s costumes, a “distressed” bunch of hugely imaginative 
rags, to Doug Newell’s apocalyptic original music and sound design, this is a 
Furious band of artists at the top of their crafts.  Add to them Brian Danner’s 
fight choreography (there’s a three-way free-for-all in Act 1 that exhausts the 
audience just to watch) and Christa McCarthy’s hair design (“I washed my 
hair last year!” brags Julie, and you believe her) and makeup (like Scab’s which 
takes Cernoch two hours to apply) and you have one hell (deliberate choice 
of words) of a striking production.

Dámaso Rodriguez told a Q&A audience after last night’s performance that 
the Furious chooses its scripts based on two primary criteria: the story must ask 
questions, and it must have high stakes. In Alex Jones’ frighteningly real (yet 
outrageously funny) script, there are both.  Canned Peaches in Syrup makes its 
audiences think and ask questions (about pollution, global warming, war, and 
other plagues that threaten our earth) and the stakes for its eight characters 
couldn’t be higher.  At the final fade out, we are forced to ask ourselves, is 
there still hope, or is this the end of everything as we know it, questions which 
couldn’t be more topical or relevant in today’s world.

Funny, filthy, touching, action-filled, romantic, tragic…Canned Peaches in 
Syrup is all of this, and more.

Carrie Hamilton Theatre (formerly the Pasadena Playhouse Balcony Theatre), 
39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
 October 11, 2007

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