By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
If the word hypocritical ever becomes politically incorrect, they will have to start burning copies of Nicky Silver’s black comedy, “The Altruists,” now a Winding Road Theatre production playing in the Cabaret Space at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.
That title is a cynical description of five supposedly liberal political activists who become, right before our eyes, as selfish and self-obsessed as the conservative power mongers these five insist on protesting against.
Their hypocrisy at presenting themselves as one thing and then acting exactly the opposite is hilarious.
And any time Christopher Johnson is the director, you know everyone on stage will be going for their personal best level of emotional intensity.
And any time a theater set centers on three rumpled double beds, well…
Of course a little gender bending is also in order. Who wouldn’t be tempted to think outside the box.
Silver’s dialogue is often clever, with several meanings frequently in the mix as this batch of friends discovers that wanting to do the right thing is quite a bit different from doing the right thing.
Knowing all the hipster slang for taking down the man is also quite a bit different from actually throwing aside all the materialistic values of your privileged upbringing to take a stand that will bring down that hated man in question.
Sometimes it is even difficult to decide which man most deserves being taken down this week. To set the scene, let’s just go down that row of restless sleeping accommodations, from left to right...
As the play begins, there appears to be a male under the covers with his face buried in a pillow. We think it is a guy, because the exposed feet are wearing guy-socks. Lying beside him is Sydney (Shanna Brock), an ambitious soap-opera star fearful that she will get old and fat before she becomes really famous.
To compensate for her unquenched desire to own material things, Sydney takes in the opportunistic idealist Ethan (Eric Anson). He is everything you would imagine a cult leader/social activist to be – insincere, egotistical and philandering. But still…
In the accommodations center stage we find the boyish Ronald (newcomer Evan Werner), a social worker with a Jesus complex, wanting to save the world so people will love him. Ronald is Sydney’s sister, as well.
Seems like Ronald has picked up and fallen in love with Lance (Brad Bultman, also making his Tucson debut), a male prostitute. Undeterred, Ronald is certain that Lance can be saved from his sordid occupation once he learns what genuine sincerity feels like. Only, well, Ronald’s sincerity has feet of clay (so to speak).
In the bed on the right, which is actually a convertible couch, we meet Cybil (Dani Dryer) in a lesbian relationship with the unseen Audrey, while pining for someone else and spending time with various guys – including Ethan. It is through these men that Cybil channels her need for the many confrontations she creates with her counter-culture persona.
Ethan, one would think, has the best of all worlds shamelessly using Sydney for her money and at the same time using Cybil just because he can.
Maybe there is a certain middle class satisfaction in watching “The Altruists” and believing those protestors making noise in public squares on the evening news are equally unworthy of sympathy.
But is that really reason enough to side with the Establishment? Surely there must be some greater good at work….shouldn’t there?
“The Altruists” continues through June 30 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, in the Cabaret Space at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $20, with $3 discounts for seniors, students, theater artists and military with ID. For details and reservations, 520-401-3626, or visit www.windingroadtheater.org