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STAGE REVIEW : ‘Porco’ Swings Between Satire, Seriousness

TIMES THEATER WRITER

A bewildered fellow has the misfortune of stumbling into a shady bar at a deserted beach resort during a howling rainstorm. Everything in it is brown and the barkeeper, also dressed in brown (Paul Verdier), is compulsively cleaning countertops with the precision of a heart surgeon. So begins Edoardo Erba’s “Porco Selvatico” at Stages Trilingual Theatre.

Anyone in his right mind would have high-tailed it out of that bar in a minute, but our visitor, identified simply as The Customer (John Walcutt), keeps talking about leaving without leaving. His car won’t run. It’s raining. And the barkeeper, who at first rejects him, later won’t let him go.

What follows is an evening that vacillates between seriousness and satire, but generally remains too brooding to be funny and ends on too stark a note to qualify as comedy, even black comedy, which is how the piece is advertised. What “Porco Selvatico” (“Wild Boar”) does do is border on parody of ‘50s style Absurdist theater, though it never quite delivers.

As a substitute for action we get hand-wringing by the customer, sinister looks from the barkeeper, unexplained moans from the ceiling and the sounds of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” filtering through the walls--until Donna (Grace Zabriskie), generic Woman, arrives.

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Dripping sex and sultriness, she makes aggressive passes at the stranger. What ensues includes havoc wreaked by a curious misfit from whose name the play derives its title (a beautiful performance by Paul Skemp as a kind of full-grown idiot child who bites), in a series of precariously motivated events that have their comic and their menacing aspects, but are unclear as to which are which.

No, “Porco” is not a take on “Frankenstein” or “The Rocky Horror Show,” but feels derivative of both. It has malicious mischief, gunplay, simulated orgasm and too many lines crammed with expectant meaning (such as Donna’s “No one gets here by accident”) that ultimately act as a smoke screen for less than meets the ear.

Verdier has directed with his usual smartness and precision, but he has backed a weak horse. The performances tend to overcompensate for the hollowness at the center of the play. They are forced (Walcutt), predesigned (Verdier) or simply predictable (Zabriskie). Only Skemp as the loutish Porco delivers a spontaneous and imaginative creation. But in his pursuit of the offbeat, Erba this time has provided only echoes of other people’s voices.

* “Porco Selvatico,” Stages Trilingual Theatre, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Indefinitely. $15; (213) 466-1767, (213) 465-1010. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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