The decadence and indulgence of the late 1980s takes center stage in "Search and Destroy" as a second-rate entertainment booker thinks all his problems will be solved if he becomes a movie producer.

The decadence and indulgence of the late 1980s takes center stage in “Search and Destroy” as a second-rate entertainment booker thinks all his problems will be solved if he becomes a movie producer. The large cast of 13 actors has many bright lights and each scene is a sharply written ’80s vignette, but in the end, the segments are greater than the sum total.

“Search and Destroy” traces the life of morally and financially bankrupt, upwardly mogul smoothtalker Martin Mirkheim (Jeff McCarthy). After an IRS audit, he ventures out on a quest to make a movie out of his favorite self-help book by Dr. Luther Waxling (Tom Celli). The book’s credo is, “It’s fear that stops you from realizing yourself.”

Mirkheim follows the doctor around the country just to meet with him (of course he’s too arrogant to make an appointment). When the doctor demands half a million dollars for the rights, Mirkheim decides dealing cocaine is the way to solve his financial woes.

Mirkheim’s problems seem to parallel the dilemmas and solutions of John De Lorean, a prominent businessman of the early 1980s. If this play was set in that time, it might be a little more sympathetic.

Though “Search” is an ambitious work that explores the passions of greed and power, viewers are hard-pressed to comprehend the author’s intentions.

Once drugs enter the story line, whatever message the playwright was trying to convey seems to get lost.

Korder’s first act shows promise and piques audience interest with novel nuggets about brokers, divorce and other high-life problems. But scenes in the second act, with uniformly despicable (though colorful) characters, seem like a parody of Brian DePalma’s “Scarface” and the storyline goes from amusing to unbelievable.

Korder writes juicy roles for actors, including Lee (Frank Ashmore), a heavy drug user who’s also a media consultant for political candidates, and Marie (Lisa Close Nelson), a dimwitted receptionist who pitches a quirky horror film story idea in an airport restaurant.

Direction by Daniel O’Connor is competent. McCarthy plays despicable well. Extraordinary stage presences include Celli and Pat Distefano, who has a strong similarity to the late John Cazale.

Scott Watson’s sound design is lush and intriguing. Brett Charles Neubig’s costumes enhance the differences between con artists and successful businessmen.

Search and Destroy

Upside Down Theatre, Hollywood; 99 seats; $15 top

Production

Davis Hartman Prods. presentation of a drama in two-acts by Howard Korder. Produced by JulieAnn Davis, Butch Hartman. Directed by Daniel O'Connor.

Creative

Sets, J. Jean-Claude Samuel; costumes, Brett Charles Neubig; lighting, Christopher Burkhardt; sound, Scott Watson. Opened Jan. 22, 1993; reviewed Feb. 13; runs through Feb. 27.

Cast

Martin Mirkheim - Jeff McCarthy Kim - Matt McKenzie Accountant/Carling - Tom Enyart Dr. Waxling - Tom Celli Robert - Joe Lala Ron - Pat Distefano Jackie/hotel clerk/Terry - Ninon Aprea Marie - Lisa Close Nelson Security guard/bus driver/state trooper - John Woehrle Pamsilo - Niko Rey Lee - Frank Ashmore
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