Triangle Productions at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont, 239-5919, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, $20-25
Shopping and F***ing tells two intertwined stories centered around an apartment where three wayward and emotionally unsettled young adults live. When the play begins, Mark, played by Michael Teufel, is slumped over the back of the sofa, barfing. His two roommates--a punkish woman and a young gay boy-toy--are comforting him. An addict trying to kick his addictions to both heroin and loveless sexual relationships, Mark has some undefined ownership over the pair.
It is a rueful beginning. In the script, the character of Mark treads lightly through a critical crossroads in his life--he no longer wants to define himself in relation to drugs, sexual partners or any other external stimuli. But instead of nuanced performance, Teufel brings to the stage a presence as subtle as an elephant in heat. He muscles his way through interactions and substitutes real emotion with foot-stomping, abrupt gestures and shock-value antics like onstage ass-licking. It is an overblown and distracting performance that leaves any real emotions looking comically tiny.
After the first scene, Mark splits to a rehab center and onto a trajectory that essentially is an unrelated story. Abandoned, Robbie (played by Chris Murray) and Lulu (played by Val Landrum) are left to hustle for their financial wherewithal and for their emotional footing. This secondary story is a diamond buried under the sludge of overacting and lazy directing that is the main story.
In search of an acting job, Lulu arrives in Brian's office. Played powerfully by Joe Healy, Brian is an unspecified businessman--probably someone who runs a shopping network. All at once, Brian is kindly, yet unapologetically slimy. In his first interview with Lulu, he explains in child-like detail a scene depicted on a "Lion King" commemorative plate. He chokes himself up with his own description. A minute later he tells Lulu to remove her blouse and act half-naked for him, if she wants the job.
As Lulu, Landrum has magnetism, and the exchanges between her and Healy spotlight the intense charms of small theater. Unfortunately, the other storyline, helped by the overwrought acting of Teufel, wraps around this secondary story like a noose. PHIL BUSSE