“Little Murders” is a funny play.
Not funny ha ha , although playwright Jules Feiffer’s sardonic humor still bites with most of its teeth, but funny unusual : In the 26 years since it was first produced, what was once a cautionary tale of a desensitized society in which human life has no meaning has become a portrait of the world in which we live.
Maybe that’s why Westminster Community Theatre’s brave and honest production is not drawing big crowds. Feiffer’s outrageous cartoon is uncomfortably familiar, a prophetic vision come true.
It’s New York City. Snipers pick people off at random; the electric power fails at regular intervals, and the phone lines are monopolized by heavy breathers. But for the Newquist family, life goes on as daughter Patsy brings home her latest marital candidate, a self-proclaimed Nihilist named Alfred who makes a very good living taking photographs of excrement.
Now, maybe that sounds a little outrageous but, hey! Drive-by shootings, a bankrupt school system, Howard Stern? Close enough.
Alfred sports a shifting patchwork of bruises because he is always getting beaten up and refuses to fight back. It’s not out of a pacifist conviction, but simply because there’s no point in fighting back: You can’t win, so why bother? Patsy, however, is a born contender, and she intends to make Alfred into a contender, too.
The play has a plot, but the real action is in Feiffer’s question: How can you fight back? If you daydream and hum while they’re beating the life out of you, you might survive, but nothing changes. If you shoot the shooter, you become part of the problem. What is a moral man to do?
There are no real moral men in Feiffer’s vision, but there are some funny ones, skewered icons who have popped right out of Feiffer’s famous comic strip.
Director Leonore Stjerne presents the cartoon without losing sight of the unsettling questions behind the caricatures. Marc LeBlanc is especially effective as Alfred, his large, dark eyes hopelessly empty and yet brimming with the disappointed heroism Patsy hopes to resurrect.
“Little Murders” will make you laugh, squirm, look around and wonder. In the temple of theater as social reformer, Feiffer’s play is no longer a distant siren; it’s an alarm clock jangling five minutes to midnight.
* “Little Murders,” Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple St., Westminster. Friday-Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Ends Saturday. $7-$9. (714) 527-8463 or (714) 893-8626. Running time: 2 hours. Bob Goff: Carol Newquist Louise Tonti: Marjorie Newquist Todd Kulczyk: Kenny Newquist Katherine Carvellas: Patsy Newquist Marc LeBlanc: Alfred Chamberlain Jon Dolton: Henry Dupas Brad Riker: Miles Practice Edward J. Steneck: The Judge
A Westminster Community Theatre production. Written by Jules Feiffer. Directed by Leonore Stjerne.