I think I saw somebody walk out on Shopping & Fucking, the current offering from Triad Productions. If she did, she woke up with a roar in her ears and lived with it the whole next day. People scream and throw stuff and jump up and down and cornhole (and vomit and bleed) in this piece a lot, and the sound bounces off the walls like sunlight off water. In its own way, this entry makes Niagara Falls reverberate like a faulty sewer line by comparison.
As a survivor of countless musicals and rock concerts, I'm here to tell you that sheer, excruciating volume (and vomit and blood) has its place as a stage device, and I normally thrill at truly decadent theater. Here, though, it's what all that noise (and vomit and blood) stands for that bothers me. Shopping & Fucking is about our own self-absorption as it affects five sketchy people our so-called better angels choose to render invisible. But amid all the whining and body slams and food fights, writer Mark Ravenhill overstates his case, and the production values follow. Those better angels never get a chance to sympathize with the message because the dust never settles long enough for a balanced look at the characters' lives.
The thing about this show is that everybody—everybody—is a gold-plated, stark-raving asshole. Two of 'em—the aging Lulu (Katie Harroff), trying to hold herself out as a model, and Mark (Patrick Kelly), well-meaning but hooked on heroin and male ass—have good intentions, but their wholesale codependence pulls them back into patterns of despair and desperation and gold-plated, stark-raving assholeness. Not even Brian (an outstanding John Whitley in the show's best role) offers any sense of tragic relief; under that sensitive exterior, he's a drug-running sociopath who carves up his creditors with big fat drill bits. Rent-boy Gary (an excellent Kevin Morrison) and gay patriarch Robbie (Julio Jacobo) have their issues, too; before long, everybody's fantasies collide into nothingness, because not one carries even a glimmer of hope. Borrrr-ringggg!
I debated a while before I denoted this piece a CityBeat pick (see listings). I bestowed this singular honor because I think Triad deserves a B for an honest effort here, and by and large, the performances and tech are fine. I'm just saying the cause would have been better served if director Adam Parker had exercised more detachment from Ravenhill's material. Acting out is one thing. Its suggestion is another. In this case, the latter would have played more effectively on our imaginations, to say nothing of that poor girl's ears. Theater is an outstanding agent for shock value, but that's not its only function.This review is based on the opening-night production of Aug. 15. Shopping & Fucking runs through Sept. 12 at Compass Theatre, 3704 Sixth Ave. in Hillcrest. $15-$23. 619-688-9210, www.triadprod.com. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.