'Safe': Fear and lying during uncertain times

Times Staff Writer

One day, theater scholars will write papers analyzing the many plays that were inspired by the current Bush administration and its war on terror. When they do, they would do well to remember Chuck Rose's "Safe," a smartly written if somewhat obvious allegory that asks how much freedom we're willing to give up in exchange for national security -- or the illusion of it.

Set five minutes into the future, "Safe" follows six wealthy individuals who are touring a luxury underground living unit when they suddenly find themselves trapped below. Apparently, biological warfare has broken out around the world -- or at least that's the story told by the corporation that owns the facility.

The motley group soon realizes it's being held hostage by the invisible company, which has denied them contact with the outside world. Some of them reject the company's insistence that their confinement is for their safety, while others take a more passive approach to their isolation. Eventually, the friction of forced proximity takes its toll on everyone.

Produced by Circus Theatricals, "Safe" argues that it takes at least two parties to perpetrate a mass lie -- the side doing the lying and the side that's foolish enough to buy into it. The play sometimes makes its points bluntly and with little verbal grace. But it's easy to excuse these faults thanks to the assured direction by Kappy Kilburn and the uniformly excellent ensemble cast.

Playing a haughty entrepreneur and his trophy wife, Tony Pasqualini and Jade Sealey are convincingly obnoxious, though not entirely detestable. Steve Coombs is deceptively innocent as their assistant. And John Kassir portrays the most memorable character -- a former sitcom star whose wisecracks seem more and more like small acts of bravery against a world going insane.

"Safe" is a pessimistic and even cynical play, but it ends on a note of cautious optimism. Without giving too much away, the power of individual action in the face of propaganda assumes near-heroic dimensions. The play ponders what the moral consequences of those actions might be, and then generously allows the audience's imagination to fill in the rest.





Where: Circus Theatricals at the Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Ends: June 6

Price: $25

Contact: (323) 960-1054

Running time: 2 hours

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