Whenever I read about the artistic scandals of the past — the near-riot provoked by Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” for example — I glumly conclude that we have grown so jaded that art has lost its power to appall.
But judging by the stifled gagging noises among the audience at the Los Angeles Theatre Center late in the second act of Alice Tuan’s “Hit,” an intrepid play can still turn some stomachs.
“Hit” initially presents itself as the story of a troubled young Korean American woman navigating L.A. life. Driving on the freeway, singing along to Cher’s “Half-Breed,” Kim (Kahyun Kim) collides with Mank (Justin Huen). The attraction is mutual.
Unfortunately Kim is already involved with a fey Frenchman named Luc (Lenny Von Dohlen), who creepily happens to be the on-and-off boyfriend of her obese adoptive mother, Sharon (Carolyn Almos, in a fat suit). Mank, meanwhile, carries a torch for Kim’s best friend, Serena (Taylor Hawthorne).
This dense web of relationships takes some effort to sort out. The opening scenes are jumpy, and director Laurel Ollstein's inventive use of the theater adds to their dislocation — if also to their liveliness.
The characters keep running into each other as if by coincidence at the same four locations — Kim’s apartment, Sharon’s office, a dive called Bar Blue and another called Karaoke Palace (Alex Gaines’ and Marika Stephens’ set effectively differentiates these) — until it seems that they are the only people and places in L.A. (a phenomenon I actually recognize from living here).
Even after the who’s who has been established, questions remain about the characters’ motivations, especially their devotion to Kim, who although fetching is narcissistic and cruel. Their habit of talking past one another even at intimate moments adds to the puzzle.
These concerns, if never put to rest, are overshadowed by the shocking denouement, an act of revenge via liposuction fat that might have been conceived by Sophocles in consultation with Dr. Oz. While undeniably theatrical, its visceral impact is so enormous that the rest of the play feels beside the point.
Still, there is a fearless imagination at work here determined to hit audiences where they live — and the bumpy ride is never dull.
“Hit.” Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 8. $40. (866) 811-4111 or www.latc.org. Running time: 2 hours.