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Theater review: 'Men of Tortuga' by Furious Theatre Company

March 5, 2010 |  1:30 pm

400.MEN OF TORTUGA - 3 Furious Theatre Company's production of "Men of Tortuga" is steeped in absurdist life-and-death corporate politics and intrigue – and that's just what's onstage. As it turns out, the backstage struggle to open the show in the company's familiar loft theater space atop the darkened Pasadena Playhouse has been rife with far more suspense.

But first things first: Jason Wells' 2006 black comedy plunges us directly into a moral quagmire as three inept corporate suits (Dana J. Kelly Jr., William Salyers, Alan Brooks) plot the assassination of their nameless, unseen sworn enemy with the help of a scruffy, hot-headed weapons expert (Robert Pescovitz). An upcoming meeting in a skyscraper office is the conspirators' only shot at their target, prompting their consultant to propose escalating methods of destruction, which he illustrates for his clueless clients with the contents of a handy fruit bowl. "It depends on how far you're willing to go," he says as they settle on a shoulder-fired missile. For extra insurance, the senior member of their team, Kit (Kelly), offers to personally attend the meeting and shoot the victim prior to the missile impact, even though it means his own death.

Wells' play skillfully charts the tortured logic leading the plotters farther down a horrific slippery slope. The certain collateral deaths of innocent people  becomes less of an abstraction when Kit meets one of the meeting attendees (Michael Matthys), an idealist advocating compromise; as a result, the plan spirals out of control.

Deliberately withholding context or background keeps the story generic, but that lack of specificity proves more a limitation than an asset – it falls entirely to the performers to make the most of dialogue that's serviceable but hardly razor-sharp. While Kelly's Kit strikes a note of Jimmy Stewart affability, only Salyers mines real comic depth from his neurotically insecure character. Moreover, director Alexis Chamow is unable to build and sustain the kind of edgy tension for which the Furious Theatre is known.

The loss of its host company with the closing of the Pasadena Playhouse threatened the show's very opening, let alone Furious' future, and seems to have cast a listless gloom over the production. Whatever the reason, when what's billed as a "comedic thriller" offers few laughs and even less suspense, there's a lot more work to be done here.

– Philip Brandes
 
"Men of Tortuga," Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 28. $32. (626) 792-7116 or www.furioustheatre.org. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Photo: Alan Brooks and William Salyers. Credit: Anthony Masters.

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