The 29th Street Rep is a ballsy company that offers auds a chance to walk on the wild side. Its plays steam with cheap sex, dirty dialogue and blunt-force violence; it works in an edgy ensemble style that hangs tough and looks dangerous. And according to the kick-ass T-shirts on sale in the lobby, it takes great pride in being a place “where brutal theater lives.” Brian Dykstra’s tense barroom thriller fits the company bill with its sexually charged atmosphere and morbid B-movie plot about a mysterious stranger who walks into a barroom with a bizarre story and a violent agenda.
So this guy walks into a bar and … No, you haven’t heard this one before. Neither has Troy (Robert Mollohan), the young bartender waiting for his last customer to leave so he and his twin sister, Honey (Moira MacDonald), can call it a night at their father’s tavern and cruise their Northern California hick town for livelier entertainment.
Troy’s girlfriend, the pretty, vacant blonde Erin (Amber Gallery), contributes to the tension of this waiting game by humping the vintage jukebox (well stocked by Tim Cramer) in sexual anticipation.
Douglas Cox’s murky lighting and the junkyard quality of Mark Symczak’s barroom decor are proper eye irritants for this tired roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. Only the young people look out of place, with their bottled-up energy and defiantly punk clothes. Troy is good-natured about pulling the night shift, but Honey is a bundle of nerves, the loose cannon in the crowd. In MacDonald’s fiery perf, Honey is such a hellion, she might torch the place out of sheer boredom.
Dykstra intensifies the hormonal energy bouncing off the walls by giving Honey an unhealthy sexual itch for her twin and a rich vocabulary to vent her frustration. (Honey’s filthy mouth obviously contributed to the overall “content, graphic language and sexuality” that caused the play to lose its funding when it was first produced at the Cincinnati Playhouse.)
Although Troy remains entirely oblivious to the situation, it seems Honey has been pimping her friends to her brother. “Listen, bitch,” she snarls at him. “I’m trying to get the both of you laid, because that’s all you really care about tonight, anyway.” Indeed, Honey is so attuned to Troy’s body chemistry that she has a spontaneous orgasm at the bar while he’s boffing Erin in the storeroom.
The dynamic shifts dramatically once the creepy customer nursing his drink at a back table lets it be known that he has a personal interest in the twins. To make a long story short (and Dykstra does tend to stretch it out), the mysterious Cole has reason to believe they may be his own offspring — either that, or the tainted progeny of Jim Jones, the cult preacher who infamously orchestrated the deaths of more than 900 people at Jonestown in 1978.
It turns out that Cole was at Jonestown and, in a mesmerizing perf by Dan Moran, he stuns his listeners with a horrific account of his role as one of Jones’ trusted henchmen. Taking it beyond the riveting storytelling, Moran offers a fierce accounting of Cole’s everlasting season in hell.
Pinning the twins to the wall with his twisted logic and ferocious rage, he forces them to consider the genetic roots of evil and puts them to sadistic tests to determine their paternity. It’s a dangerous performance, but Dykstra keeps the character just this side of crazy, and Moran never jumps the boundary.
Even in David Mogentale’s taut production (an impressive helming debut from this company actor), the show is by no means a slam-dunk. The title is too abstract for such visceral material, and the sadistic trials devised by Cole could be sharper and more definitive. But in a slightly trimmer version — and without the intermission — this nasty thing could offend quite a few people.