Nicky Silver skewers liberal do-gooders in his outrageously funny The Altruists, a hilarious confection that kept this liberal do-gooder wannabe in stitches throughout its ninety nonstop minutes of absurdist fun at West L.A.’s Pico Playhouse.

First up among the titular altruists is 30ish Ronald, described by the playwright as a “flamboyant dumpling” and played here with unabashed abandon by a sensational Adam Ferguson. Having grown up “in a beautiful house with a swimming pool with a diving board and a changing room, and fresh towels, put there by someone whom I never saw,” Ronald now finds it his life’s work to do unto others, whether that means protesting school, welfare, and AIDS cutbacks, or fighting for gay rights, or supporting Women Against Drunk Drivers. On this particular Sunday morning, however, the first thing on Ronald’s mind is the dumb bunny twink he’s woken up next to, a longhaired cutiepie he spotted at Ramrod last night, “sitting at the bar, drumming away, like a frenzied, hopped-up maniac,” and realized at once that “kismet drew me to that bar, and into your eyes and your arms—and your heart, I hope.”

Never one to mince (words that is), Ronald invites Lance (a delectably ditzy Emerson Collins) to join him in the fight “for what’s ours,” explaining to the hunkette that “the world is full of hatred and violence” and that “it’s our job, our duty to stomp the living daylights out of it,” to which Lance responds, “Well, I could…, but you have to pay me for last night first.” Oops!

Meanwhile, Adam’s gorgeous blonde sister Sydney (a fabulous Ryann Turner, out-energizing the Energizer Bunny) has a man in her own bed, an unseen figure whose causes she’s had enough of, and that means his walkathons and demonstrations, his firebombs and letter-writing, and his cheating. The very unaltruistic and entirely self-absorbed Sydney will have Ethan know she’s a daytime soap star, one whose myriad fans send her “mail by the bushel, letters by the trillion,” fans who, all across the country, are “worried about Montana Beach. Will she leave Brock for Brick? Will she kick her ugly habit? Will she find her mother, true love, or the meaning of life?” With a man like Ethan ruining her life, it’s no wonder Sydney pulls out a gun and shoots his sheet-covered body … three times.

Meanwhile, a very much alive Ethan (real life soap heartthrob Finn Wittrock, a terrific comedic actor) has just spent the night with Cybil (adorable ball of revolutionary fire Kim Hamilton in butch lesbian mode), who at the moment is on one hilarious hell of a rant, screaming “Fuck the mayor! Fuck City Hall! Fuck the cops! Fuck the yuppie scum with their French restaurants and real estate prices and Baby Gap and Starbucks!” … and that’s just for starters. Still, there’s a rally to be headed off to, and protests take precedence over additional “Fucks.” Still, Cybil knows better than to expect any help from Ethan, who informs her in no uncertain terms, “I’m not walking. I’m not carrying all that shit. I’ll carry fire bombs and stink bombs, but I refuse to carry both.”

Will Ronald persuade Lance to give up his life as a sex worker for marital bliss—with a baby, or a dog, or at least a cactus to care for? Will Sydney manage to cajole Ronald, Ethan, or Lance into getting rid of the body in her bed? And just who the blazes is it lying dead under Sydney’s designer sheets?

These are just three of the questions playwright Silver poses, to audience delight, over the course of The Altruist’s lickety-split hour and a half of absurdist fun.

Under Doug Bilitch’s pitch-perfect direction, the entire cast do award-caliber comedic work, the kind that too often gets passed over for so-called “serious” acting, with Ferguson and Turner’s manic monologs deserving particular acclaim. Playwright Silver satirizes “Awareness Ribbon” causes so incisively and so accurately that you may never again be able to hear the words “Save The _____” and keep a straight face.

This latest production by The Mechanicals Theatre Group benefits from the design talents of Jesse Sheldon, who has created three very different, meticulously appointed rooms on the limited confines of the Pico Playhouse stage, and lit them quite effectively indeed. Paul Rocha gets top marks for his costumes, with special snaps to Sydney’s sexy Richard Tyler power suit.

The Altruists is produced by Monica Raymund. Richard Hill is stage manager.

With only another week and a half in its three-week run, The Altruists is snooze-or-you-lose frivolity of the most intelligent sort.  Don’t snooze, cause this absurdly funny hit is one you do not want to lose.

Pico Playhouse, 10508 W Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
September 2, 2011

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