Scripter-thesp Jhon Doria can't decide what kind of legiter he is trying to create. Within the space of 60 minutes he segues from a futuristic "Traffic"-like smuggling caper, to a hard-boiled "Detective Story" interrogation, to the macho, edgily humorous give-and-take of a buddy pic. Not enough time or substance is instilled into any area.

Scripter-thesp Jhon Doria can’t decide what kind of legiter he is trying to create. Within the space of 60 minutes he segues from a futuristic “Traffic”-like smuggling caper, to a hard-boiled “Detective Story” interrogation, to the macho, edgily humorous give-and-take of a buddy pic. Not enough time or substance is instilled into any area to establish a viable thematic throughline. Helmer Joshua Biton deals with each segment as its own entity, ignoring the lack of cohesion. He is generally rewarded with capable, efficient perfs from the four-member ensemble, but unfortunately, he fumbles the concluding scene, draining whatever dramatic tension that could be culled from Doria’s meandering plot.

The action centers on Charlene (Rachel Jackson), a comely but hard-edged “transporter” in the Genome Trade, the illegal enterprise of manipulating Human DNA for profit. The opening scene involves an intensely cathartic re-examination of the relationship between Charlene and her lover-financer Stanley (Doria), including a lot of discussion about the viability of her profession.

Thanks to the committed portrayals by Jackson and Doria, there are some intriguing moments in this scrappy pas de deux. The two conspirators exude palpable emotional/physical intensity as each attempts to gain emotional advantage over the other. But what starts out as a potentially compelling study in male/female gamesmanship is obliterated when the pair is busted by their connection-turned-undercover-cop, Deke (Ed Swidey), and his partner Fox (Daren Thomas).

The subsequent police-station grilling takes numerous twists and turns but fails to generate any continuity from the opening scene. What is established is the ever-manipulative Deke is more concerned with catching an elusive smuggling kingpin named Diamala than he is in prosecuting Charlene. The back-and-forth dealmaking between Deke and Charlene, along with Charlene’s disenchantment when she discovers Stanley’s lack of commitment to their relationship, is played out as a standalone segment. The scene doesn’t really go anywhere; it just ends.

The concluding vignette involves Deke’s surveillance of the mysterious Diamala. Peering endlessly through binoculars, Deke maniacally fixates on his target, much to the annoyance of his partner. The annoyance becomes mutual and the ensuing barbed exchanges sound like dialogue that might have been cut out of the latest “Starsky and Hutch” incarnation. The revelation of the identity deception that is the supposed show-ending shocker is so badly telegraphed by Biton’s staging that the audience is left with the disconcerting feeling that the play might not yet be over.

Dreamland

The Complex, Los Angeles; 67 seats; $10 top

Production

Marqui Besneate presents a play in one act by Jhon Doria. Directed by Joshua Biton.

Creative

Sets & lights, Biton and Doria. Opened and reviewed April 1, 2004; closes April 29. Running time: 60 MIN.

Cast

Stanley - Jhon Doria Charlene - Rachel Jackson Deke - Ed Swidey Fox - Daren Thomas
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