Alyson Croft’s new play, “Fifth and Spring,” purports to provide a slice-of-life view of downtown L.A.’s rave scene, where luckless young people rock on through abysmal lives, the python grip of their fears and confusions loosened by drugs. Every big city possesses such an underclass of lost, lonely kids sliding into early wreckage, but it’s a hard milieu to write about; theater is a social, verbal art form, and drugs tend to desocialize people and vaporize their inner lives into incommunicable fantasies. After a while, there’s not much drama in stoned desperation, only spectacle.
This is Croft’s first full-length play. She plays Sandy, a 25-year-old alcoholic who would like to be a New York tap dancer but lives at home with her mom, a card shark, and gets around on a mini-scooter. We meet her on the day she’s lost both of her dead-end jobs and joins up with her pals for a downtown party that eventually takes them out to the desert for what’s supposed to be a Free Mumia political rally, but turns out to be just another party. Early on, she hooks up with Tony, a heavy duty junkie from New Jersey who, for her sake, decides to kick. Later, Sandy loses her two paychecks. In a casual, Iago-like show of concern, her treacherous friend Ziggy blames Tony (who’s innocent). Confronted, Tony’s fragile ego crumbles and he ODs.
Croft has a good ear for the fragmented dialogue of people who hang together in shared references and codes (her drive to the desert with high school classmate Lindsay is rife with old schoolgirl grudges). And she has an eye for the manic deceptions and self-deceptions of people who’ll crash and burn if they can’t stay high. What she doesn’t have is a theater vocabulary — that is, a sense of deepening complication that unfolds in concentrated settings instead of in a series of transitional film-like scenes that don’t carry a lot of information between clumsy blackouts.
“Fifth and Spring” has a psychologizing, movie-of-the week quality in which, for example, Nancy can say to Sandy, “Don’t blame me if you’re too scared to go after what you want.” And if all that Sandy can say to Tony’s comatose form is “”Y’know, get better and we’ll talk later,” there isn’t much loss for us to feel either way.
Ronnie Walsh’s performance as Tony pipelines back to the wounded, fidgety earnestness of James Dean, who made a career of being deeply misunderstood; Walsh has a dark, compact, explosive energy that gives his character pathos. Joel West, as the skinheaded Ziggy, has a rangy, easy sensuality and a clever look that’s his own. Hans Bodenweiser, as Dino, a stone junkie dressed in a spandex midriff, has a brilliant fast-talking turn in which he tries to appear normal and reasonable through a nerve-ratcheted high. The rest of the performances are unremarkable.