Up-and-coming playwright Adam Rapp hasn't chosen a particularly auspicious title for his latest play. This one is likely to leave numbed and bewildered audiences pining for a fast-forward button. Rapp has a long list of productions and commissions from prominent regional theaters.

Up-and-coming playwright Adam Rapp hasn’t chosen a particularly auspicious title for his latest play. This one is likely to leave numbed and bewildered audiences pining for a fast-forward button. Rapp has a long list of productions and commissions from prominent regional theaters, but his reputation is done no favors by the New York premiere of this pretentious exercise in obscurity and self-indulgence.

The play is set in a dank basement in an unnamed suburb of Chicago, presumably some time in the future. A massive heat wave oppresses the populace, and there are periodic announcements over a public address system warning residents to stay inside and conserve water. Homeboy teens Kitchin (Mtume Gant) and Skram (Chris Messina) are nervously hanging out waiting for a man from Oswego, who they apparently expect will pay handsomely for the little girl they’ve kidnapped and locked in the boiler room.

Kitchin, who first signals the play’s portentous, positively biblical mood by alluding to his church visits and misquoting the Good Book, is reasonably pleasant company, but Skram is something else. When not viciously mocking his mute younger brother Stargyl (Robert Beitzel) and forcing him to dance in high heels, he stuffs Count Chocula cereal down his gullet, masturbates, sniffs glue and spews forth self-aggrandizing arias. Kids these days!

Rapp has an undeniable gift for reshaping the raw language of hip-hopping teens in original, often amusing and even lyrical ways — something of a surprise given the prosy quality of last season’s “Nocturne.” And for a while the flash and skill that Gant and Messina bring to the playwright’s punchy, pungent dialogue give the play a certain lurid energy. But soon the relentless vulgarity of their interplay and the play’s static quality begin to grate.

Numbness is replaced by mystification when there arrive intimations that the kidnapped girl is some sort of river-born prophet who warns Kitchin that, as he puts it, “a big-ass storm is coming” and “the rain’s gonna change to flies and the flies is gonna change to fire!”

“She said the fish will protect us,” he adds, and indeed when Kitchin and Skram scramble upstairs at the end of act one, the spooky little tyke emerges from the boiler room amid eerie lighting to conduct a brief, thoroughly mystifying colloquy with Stargyl that includes the gift of a flopping fish that she pulls out from under her tulle skirt.

Said fish figures prominently in act two, when the man from Oswego arrives, in the company of — but not exactly in — a wheelchair (why?), and proceeds to subject Skram to various humiliations. The bewildered but desperate homeboy is forced to dance with this devilish figure and swallow the fish whole in order to win the gleaming suitcase full of cash the man has brought with him. By this point, director Darrell Larson proves unable to keep the play from tipping over into ludicrousness.

Precisely what all the pseudo-apocalyptic imagery is supposed to add up to remains entirely obscure — something about the absence of God and maybe the second coming of Christ, given all that fishy imagery. Little clearer is the significance of the orange juice ad jingle that is repeated by various characters, ultimately by the no-longer-mute Stargyl at the play’s conclusion (and who drinks orange juice on ice, by the way?). Far clearer are the author’s stylistic influences, which would include Sams Shepard and Beckett (act two finds the boys mysteriously suspended from the ceiling) as well as Flannery O’Connor, that specialist in Gothic, apocalyptic fiction.

But Rapp hasn’t yet digested these influences very successfully. And at least in “Faster” the result is an exercise in empty nihilism, adorned with supernatural flourishes that only succeed in adding a thick layer of pretentiousness to the unpleasant proceedings.

Faster

Rattlestick Theater; 90 seats; $35 top

Production

A Rattlestick Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Adam Rapp. Directed by Darrell Lason.

Creative

Sets, David Korins; costumes, Kaye Voyce; lighting, Jeff Croiter; sound, Eric Shim; fight director, Marin Ireland; puppet consultant, Diana Whitten; production stage manager, Lori Ann Zepp. Opened Sept. 9, 2002. Reviewed Sept. 6. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast

Stargyl - Robert Beitzel Kitchin - Mtume Gant Skram - Chris Messina Man - Roy Thinnes Girl - Fallon McDevitt Brooking
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