If the devil walked among us, he’d be a sleazy talent agent in Rahway, N.J. Or so he exerts his dominion in “Broadsword: A Heavy Metal Play," Marco Ramirez’s imaginative if ponderous drama directed by Mark St. Amant at the Black Dahlia Theatre.
Sixteen years ago this agent, billed as “The Man in White" (Armin Shimerman, hauntingly intense) persuaded Tony (Tim Venable) to ditch his heavy-metal band, Broadsword, leaving his brother, Ritchie, and their bandmates, Vic (Blake Robbins) and Nicky (Kenneth Allan Williams), bitter and adrift.
Now, after going missing, Ritchie has been declared dead. The guys and their former groupie, Becca (Heather Sher), convene in Ritchie's basement lair (Kurt Boetcher's convincingly shabby, cluttered set) to hash out old resentments.
Suddenly a loony musicologist, Dr. Thorne (Morlan Higgins), appears, sporting mutton-chop whiskers and an indeterminate accent (I thought Irish, based on the mutton-chops, but my date remained doubtful) and claiming to have been corresponding with Ritchie. They were seeking the forgotten music of a legendary demon king. Ritchie's last letter, which only Broadsword can decipher, may be it. Unfortunately, the demon king vaporizes anybody who performs his masterpiece imperfectly.
Against all expectations, the masterpiece is not "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." You won’t hear it, but a preview, more dissonant than the THX audio logo, will reconcile you to its absence.
"Broadsword" has an engaging premise and amusing moments. The characters’ spotlighted monologues, however, are so self-consciously poetic that they would (and do) challenge the devil himself: Shimerman goes for sinister and seductive; sinister prevails. The band members are laconic, while Higgins adds frantic gestures (nose rubbing, armpit scratching) as though to draw attention from his sillier lines. Sher does the most persuasive job with Becca’s musings, making it seem even more retrograde that the only woman onstage is a tramp redeemed by giving birth. Can't broads play heavy metal too?
-- Margaret Gray
“Broadsword.” The Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Ends July 31. $25. Contact: (800) 838-3006 or www.thedahlia.com. Running time: 90 minutes.
Photo: The Man in White (Armin Shimerman) menaces Tony (Tim Venable) in “Broadsword: A Heavy Metal Play.” Credit: Gaalan Michaelson and Lauren Pasternack