A stage littered with corpses, a man locked in a bathroom pontificating about life and death while awaiting a bullet and an audience convulsing with laughter marks what’s in store in “Criminal Genius,” the third installment of George F. Walker’s “Suburban Motel” six-play cycle.
The perverse and hysterical climax features Phillie (James Kidnie), the manager of a rundown motel on the outskirts of town, pondering what it means to be a loser caught up in a criminal underworld. While noting that his parents were idiots and that some guy with a gun is trying to climb into the bathroom window, actor Kidnie delivers the absurd speech with perfect, low-key resignation. The expected bullet ends his ramblings — and the play.
It is Walker’s great strength that he can weave an intensely violent scene not only into a moment of uproarious mirth, but also into a pacifist statement.
The story is as absurd as its characters: Shirley (Nicky Guadagni) hires Rolly (Dennis O’Connor) and Stevie (Tom Barnett) to help her torch a restaurant in order to put a chef out of work.
Like the first two plays of the cycle, moral ambiguity runs rampant in “Criminal Genius,” and once again Walker pushes the edge of the comic envelope with nonstop expletives and relationships that will offend the politically correct. Even in the midst of total farce, complete with slamming doors and pratfalls, Walker keeps his audience from sinking into complacency.
While the company has its moves down technically, most of the extreme physical work doesn’t yet feel organic, and many of the rhythms aren’t clicking. Walker is directing the cycle himself, and the work seems unfinished. Still, with writing this strong, even a less than satisfying production is irresistible.