The world premiere of Matt Pelfrey’s dark comedy “An Impending Rupture of the Belly” is neither as offbeat nor as awkward as its title, which is a mixed blessing. The Furious Theater Company’s production efficiently mines all of the humor and drama from the piece under Damaso Rodriguez’s confident direction, and the outstanding cast delivers subtle, vibrant work. The play itself, however, while amusing, is also predictable, which makes the experience a trifle less memorable than it might be.
Young married couple Clay (Eric Pargac) and Terri (Aubrey Saverino) are expecting their first child. Clay is nervous about the responsibilities of impending fatherhood, and the litany of things to worry about (terrorism, riots, smallpox crop-dusters over Dodger Stadium) from his friend Adam (Doug Newell) doesn’t help. Clay wants to turn his house into a fortress, but Terri suggests he start small by simply stopping their rude neighbor Doug (Troy Metcalf) from letting his dog defecate on their lawn every day. When Clay and Doug’s confrontation does not go well, Clay spins out of control, lost among the paranoid terrors in his mind.
Pargac does a great job of making Clay sympathetic yet disturbing, so worried about not living up to a hyped concept of manliness that he loses sight of his decency. Saverino brings a tart authority to her role, a woman who’s mostly horrified at what her husband is becoming, yet who also partly pushed him down that road. Metcalf is terrific as the amiably malevolent Doug, heedlessly stoking the fires of Clay’s mania, and Newell is incisively funny in a couple of roles. Shawn Lee, however, steals the show with his hilarious, supercharged perf as Clay’s rampaging brother Ray, a thoroughly realized creation that recalls some of Nicolas Cage’s more outre characters.
Although the plot of “Belly” seems a little familiar, Pelfrey has a gift for oddball concepts and sardonic dialogue, as when Ray dismisses his life as “follow your dreams and end up in downtown L.A. with no pants.” Rodriguez enhances the show with clever staging, such as an open doorway standing in as a bed, and brings an appropriately nightmarish intensity to the “dogs of war” sequence. No one is credited for the choice of music that roars between each scene, but the use of such bands as Fear and Morphine to create a jarring, dissonant vibe is bluntly effective. Dan Jenkins’ set, a series of empty skyscrapers placed one in front of the other, seems unrelated to the show, which is mainly set in suburban Pasadena.