Sheldon Penner's "Fog of War" at the Ventura Court Theatre is a provocative but overwrought play, a frustrating mix of profundity and cliche served up hot and steamy by director Jeff Murray and a fiercely effective cast.
Riots have broken out in Los Angeles. Neil (Vaughn Armstrong), his daughter, Casey (Elena Fasan), and their Latina housekeeper, Marta (Jill Remez), are taken captive when armed militia members storm their upscale Hollywood Hills home. Members of the Army of the Republic, these street "soldiers," led by ex-gang leader and jailhouse savant Malik (Billy Mayo), proclaim Neil's house a garrison in their new order, the Amer-African People's Republic.
Meanwhile, communications remain sketchy and all roads into the hills have been blocked. But whether Malik and his compatriots Leona (Lissa Layng) and Li'l Tee (Mister) are the forerunners of a full-scale revolution or they are part of a disorganized rabble doomed to failure remains to be seen.
Neil, beautifully realized by Armstrong, brims with good intentions, liberal guilt and, ultimately, righteous rage. Neil's diametric opposite--and brother under the skin--Malik functions as an eloquent spokesman for a deprived underclass. However, the other characters, although well-acted, are retreads. Casey is a typical spoiled rich kid, Marta a brilliant physician reduced to cleaning toilets for the gringo oppressor, Li'l Tee a gangbanger straight out of episodic television. But it is Leona, a walking anachronism in a black beret who spouts "Right on, sister" in all apparent earnestness, who is the most catastrophically stereotypical, a painful irritant sapping the energy of this potentially powerful play.
* "Fog of War," Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Ends Aug. 15. $15. (818) 763-0245. Running time: 2 hours.