Stark Raving Theater Theatre! Theater!

3430 SE Belmont St, 232-7072

Fri-Sat at 10 pm, through August 12

Stark Raving Theater made a small, tactical error when it mounted character actor Raymond J. Barry's satirical view of post-apocalyptic America. That is, the company decided to sell the book that contains the play outside in the lobby. Thus the disappointed spectator can instantly compare text with stagecraft and see if the problems with the show come from the source or the interpretation. It would be nice to say that Stark Raving got it right. But responsible criticism in its spoil sport way must be true to the experience of the actual performance, and in that light I must assert that, ambitious as this production is, A Piece of Cake is a terribly acted show.

One can see how they went awry. Barry writes his plays in short sentences that seem to invite the kind of fast paced delivery most of the actors employ. But this is a mistake, and by not reading them in a normal fashion by talking fast and stepping on each others lines and not listening to each other they turn a political satire into a sitcom.

Not that the text is perfect either. On a fundamental level, the play doesn't even make any sense. It starts off when two, argumentative roommates (Tom Beckett and Daniel Flint) decide to visit some neighbors on the other side of the vague, post-nuclear wasteland they live in. The wife and husband (Megan Harris and Jared Roylance) whom they visit are alternately suspicious and welcoming. Then it turns out that the roommates are gay and have "the virus." But then it turns out that the gay roommates are really spies themselves. One of them is sick, and, throwing off his blanket, recovers in about a second.

What's more, this being Stark Naked Theater, there is nudity mixed in with the "adult themes," but the themes aren't presented in a very adult fashion. The nudity, by Harris, has an intellectual and emotional point, but the production flinches from having both husband and wife naked in their triumphant, post-coital embrace, undercutting the liberation that is the thrust of the scene.

The basic problem is that the ideas can't get past the bad acting. Beckett and Flint's bug-eyed manner is more appropriate for late night improv skits. Harris is game, but buried in the noise around her. But Baham is the worst. Dressed like a black-garbed, gay beatnik replete with necklace medallion and shiny distracting earring.

Roylance is the only exception. His line readings are astute, sensitive, realistic, and deeply felt. One's heart goes out to him in light of what he must go through every night, acting into the void created by his stagemates.