There's a nice double edge to the title of British playwright John Godber's piece, "Bouncers," which opened Saturday on the Tiffany Theatre's South Stage. The word designates your garden-variety tough guy, hired to remove troublemakers from bars and other such public places. But the show at the Tiffany also retains its connections to the verb from which the noun derives.
It bounces--and then some: up and down, side to side, scene to scene, moment to moment, gender to gender.
To bounce : The verb, according to Webster's, means "to bump or thump; to spring; to jump; to cause to hit against a surface; to rebound." Bounce : The noun is defined as "impudence, bluster, energy, zest, dash and the ability to regain one's spirit."
All of which applies here.
What Godber hath wrought cannot be called a play. It's closer to a performance piece, with hard-edged, rigidly structured movement (more drill than dance at the clever hands of choreographer Jeff Calhoun) synchronized to Bruce Goldstein's angular music (a strong original score for this American premiere, arranged by Calhoun). While the show's complex gyrations displays a trendy allegiance to MTV, they go a whole lot further, if not a lot deeper, than music videos.
At a brisk, uninterrupted 90 minutes, "Bouncers" is a challenging experience, requiring a tremendous amount of sheer verbal and physical dexterity from the four tuxedoed men playing the "Bouncers"--Jack Coleman, Dan Gerrity, Gerrit Graham and Andrew Stevens, all tongue-in-cheek tough, with big, comical chips on their shoulders.
The major help they get comes from director Ron Link, who keeps the tempo high, the beat unrelenting and the energy at a sizzle.
It also comes from dialect coach Gillian Eaton (those low-life English accents stay in line) and lighting designer Peter Maradudin, whose white light and deep shadows do for Cliff Faulkner's bare black stage (the sidewalk outside a British night spot?) what furniture does for a room. They lend it character--in this case, sinister.
It's all there--the dry-ice fog, the idle menace, the implied violence, the whole vacant modern posture in something of a cross between a music video and an Army drill session, with a dash of heavy metal. Indeed, "Bouncers' " major flaw lies in its absence of meaning.
As a piece, it adds up to much less than the sum of its parts, resembling some sort of mad scene-making machine, bouncing (that word again) from a beauty shop to a barber shop, from four guys on the loose hunting down the young girls "lolling about on a cloud of Estee Lauder" to the guys playing the girls (and very well, too).
In the interim, there is lots of ballyhooing, of strutting one's stuff, of graphically drinking oneself sick (again and again) of striking up and striking out. But, like the passing parade of young men about town in search of something to do and someone to do it to, "Bouncers" is ultimately a rudderless vessel on a music sea, drunk on precision timing, addicted to supersharp choral speaking, singing, mugging and contorting, signifying . . . not too much.
And yet. On the strength of pure style, form and sheer galvanic energy, one can't help but take considerable pleasure in it. There is humor and joy in this sensory exultation of youth. It is "Asinamali!" without the political content. Author Godber claims to see poetry in the commonplace. He does, and, with the help of Link and company, he knows how to make sure that we see it with him.
A word here, too, for the excellent sound design by Nathan Wang and the raffish punk hair styles and makeup by Chelsea.
"Bouncers" is not a show for everyone (young audiences will relish it more readily than older ones), but not since Steven Berkoff's "Greek" radicalized some of our perceptions in 1982 has anything quite so different or so catalytic hit the Los Angeles theater scene. And, not so coincidentally, "Bouncers" is brought to us, as "Greek" was, by L.A. Theatre Works in association with Joanne Jacobson. Co-producers are Bobbie Edrick and Elaine Rich.
Performances at 8532 Sunset Blvd. run Thursdays and Fridays at 8:30 p.m., Saturdays at 7:30 and 10 p.m., Sundays at 7:30 p.m., indefinitely; (213) 652-6165).
Tickets are $13-$15 and there's parking behind the theater.