Shopping and Fucking

The play "Shopping and Fucking," a hit in London, is indeed gruesome, but not because of the onstage simulation of the title act (not the shopping, the other one). In its depiction of young adults addicted to either heroin, sex, relationships, money, abuse -- or just plain addicted to addiction -- the play keeps getting bleaker even when it seems to have hit bottom. Not quite creative enough to be truly interesting, the work does offer enough titillating bleakness to make it hard to turn away from -- sort of like an especially ugly car crash.

With:
Mark - Andrew Ableson Robbie - Melik Malkasian Lulu - Mariam Parris Gary - Steven Klein Brian - Michael James Reed

The play “Shopping and Fucking,” a hit in London, is indeed gruesome, but not because of the onstage simulation of the title act (not the shopping, the other one). In its depiction of young adults addicted to either heroin, sex, relationships, money, abuse — or just plain addicted to addiction — the play keeps getting bleaker even when it seems to have hit bottom. Not quite creative enough to be truly interesting, the work does offer enough titillating bleakness to make it hard to turn away from — sort of like an especially ugly car crash.

The play opens with vomiting. Mark (Andrew Ableson) is going through withdrawal as he attempts to kick his heroin habit. His roommates, Robbie (Melik Malkasian) and Lulu (Mariam Parris), want to help him but, because of their apparent emotional and financial dependence on him, only seem to feed his cravings. Mark decides to leave for a while to get some outside assistance, forcing Robbie and Lulu to fend for themselves.

Lulu applies for a job with Brian (Michael James Reed), a mysterious and controlling businessman who loves to recount the plot of “The Lion King” and cries at the drop of a sentiment. When Brian entrusts her with a job selling drugs, it’s only a matter of time before all goes wrong and Robbie and Lulu are plunged even further into desperate money-making ventures.

Meanwhile, Mark is recovering nicely from his heroin addiction, but still finds himself needing sex. Afraid to return home before he has full control of his feelings, he instead picks up a young prostitute named Gary (Steven Klein), hoping to engage in a mere “transaction,” no emotional strings attached. But Gary has a sob story even worse than the others, and Mark can’t resist getting drawn into another dysfunctional relationship.

The set at the black-box Celebration Theatre consists primarily of large advertisements covering the space like wallpaper. It’s an appropriate environment for a world where everything is a commodity. A couple of television screens tell the audience where each scene is happening, and also play videos that Brian shows to Lulu and Robbie — some violent and some disturbingly mundane. The currency of this world is not just money but blood, so the red stuff makes a couple of appearances, one of which is certainly cringe-inducing.

All the actors here have strong scenes. Ableson is especially good when spouting psycho-babble about “acknowledging his needs.” Malkasian delivers the most amusing monologue, attempting to justify an idiotic act, and Parris and Reed are also at their best when playing the funniest, darkest beats.

But while some of it works, the acting as a whole is limited; the characters never fully come alive. Michael Donald Edwards’ direction is solid, but not inspired. For the most part, the audience is allowed to keep a comfortable emotional distance. It makes the play easier to take, which is undoubtedly not how it’s supposed to be.

Shopping and Fucking

Celebration Theatre; 65 seats; $20

Production: A Celebration Theatre presentation in association with Theatre Rhinoceros of San Francisco and Jungle Red Prods. of a play in two acts by Mark Ravenhill. Directed by Michael Donald Edwards. Set, P. Bradford Rabe; costumes, Michael Moser; lighting, Frank McKown; sound, Robby MacLean; casting, Donovan & Hardwick Casting. Opened, reviewed March 3, 2000. Runs through April 9. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast: Mark - Andrew Ableson Robbie - Melik Malkasian Lulu - Mariam Parris Gary - Steven Klein Brian - Michael James Reed

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