The public and the media’s well-documented propensity for raising up real-life heroes, and then just as devotedly uncovering feet of clay, gets a vigorous if campy going-over in “No Good Deed,” the latest explosion of the Furious Theater Company. Matt Pelfrey’s text is smug and unfocused, but helmer Damaso Rodriguez and associates haven’t stinted on the presentation: part drug fantasia, part graphic novel, all in your face.
Pelfrey picks a peck of Peter Parker in protagonist Josh Jaxon (Nick Cernoch). Like the future Spider-Man, geeky Josh is bullied and outcast, his raging hormones fixated on high school diva Danielle (Katie Marie Davies). In short, there’s textbook fertilizer for a superhero-to-be.
He’s also a burgeoning comic-book artist, whose gift is excitingly reflected by Jason H. Thompson’s manga-influenced projections of heightened reality, as imagined by graphic artist Ben Matsuya against John Iacovelli’s festering rear-wall panels.
Alas, unlike wholesome Parker who’s doted on by loving aunt and uncle, our Josh is saddled with a trashy Maw (Johanna McKay) and abusive stepfather (Robert Pescovitz) with whom he shares an increasing appetite for prescription meds. Happening upon a slobbering derelict’s harrowing attack on Danielle, he beats the bum to death with a lead pipe to become a national hero. (This is allegedly based on a real-life incident but elicits mostly skepticism as played out here.)
Pelfrey weaves in a pair of authentic champs — infant-rescuing firefighter Bryant (Shawn Lee) and bomb-alerting security guard Dan (Troy Metcalf), the latter libelously close to Atlanta Olympics whistle-blower Richard Jewell — for a heavy-handed, simplistic dramatization of how the media exploit the just. Smirking tabloid paparazzi keep popping out to jack up suspicion (Bryant a polygamist? Dan a mama-fixated tool?) between frivolous teasers (“Do zebras provide your child’s lunch meat? Film at 11”). Despite smart caricatures of Jay Leno (fight choreographer Brian Danner) and David Letterman (Pescovitz) it’s all obvious, unvarying and unfunny to the max.
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Happy dust and despair turn Josh into “Hellbound Hero” to team up with angry Bryant and Dan as a sort of Justice-Denied League of America. The themes really implode then, but at least fun breaks out. Danner’s propulsive melees postpone any fretting over Pelfrey’s inchoate indictments in act one and beyond.
Cernoch credibly captures raw youth, and the dimensions he finds in his underwritten role are quite remarkable. But he and his fellow victims of celebrity are too much the fatally flawed caricature to engage real sympathy. The fine Lee could benefit from less bluster and a little more simple innocence, while Metcalf gives his hero more respect than America did, certainly more than the play does even though Pelfrey has actually dedicated it to Jewell.
Satire, as the saying goes, closes on Saturday night; and that’s because it’s so rarely pointed or thought through. Here, the QED of heroes-as-scapegoats is undercut by the play’s insistence on pinning dishonor on them for the sake of easy, cynical laughs. Despite the obvious care in staging, Pelfrey and Rodriguez fail to see they’re trying to have it both ways, no less guilty than the Geraldos and Oprahs they twit in wanting no good deed to go unridiculed.