Riffing on a deconstruction is a sticky wicket, which makes "Zastrozzi" at NoHo Arts Center doubly satisfying. Canadian playwright George F. Walker's amoral dark comedy receives an imaginative, atmospheric co-production by Open at the Top and 49th Parallel Theatre.
Subtitled "The Master of Discipline," the script generally follows Percy Bysshe Shelley's 1810 novel, albeit shot through with the typical Walker sense of tongue-in-cheek. Ruthlessly existential Zastrozzi (the memorable Philippe Brenninkmeyer) swears vengeance on deluded Verezzi (avid Alex Robert Holmes, alternating with Hans Longo). After causing the death of Zastrozzi's mother, this addled painter has become a self-styled religious visionary.
Together with henchman Bernardo (the superb Drake Simpson) and sometime mistress Matilda (Anna Khaja, having a field day), Zastrozzi launches a nefarious scheme to make Verezzi destroy himself. Two flies could unravel the spider web: detached Victor (the excellent Bob Morrisey), Verezzi's protector, and virginal Julia (funny, nuanced Holly Persell), whose flighty sense of honor underscores the argument.
By rendering Walker's witty Gothic fillips in film noir idiom, this light-fingered reading sharpens "Zastrozzi's" trumps and shrinks its foibles. Co-directors Sara Botsford and Christopher "CB" Brown deftly finagle the mix of camp and gravitas. Spurred by Brenninkmeyer, who is ideal in charismatic presence and eloquent diction, the ace actors follow suit, tearing into Victor Warren's fight choreography and exuding casual perversity without going overboard.
Lacey Anzelc designs an imposing abandoned prison set, which Luke Moyer lights lushly. Costume designer Curtis C. and sound designer Jonathan Zenz have great fun with the Carol Reed-on-absinthe ambience.
There are fleeting oddities -- Act 1 ends too bluntly, Holmes might rethink his accent, and Walker remains an acquired taste.
Yet many a deeper dish of treachery has offered less real thought, style or entertainment than this solid revival consistently provides.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times