Review: Loads of dark satire in ‘Occupation,’ but little dramatic coherence

“Occupation,” now receiving its West Coast premiere at Sacred Fools Theater, explores the ramifications of globalization and imperialism with considerable ambition and erratic dramaturgy, to put it mildly.

It transpires in 2017, when, as opening video news reports (designed by Anthony Backman) inform us, the United States has sold Florida to China, which demands that native Floridians leave the state in 18 months or lose their U.S. citizenship.

That premise, a deliberate analogy to U.S. involvement in the Middle East, produces a dystopian narrative, which begins with pregnant redneck teenager Bets (Halle Charlton), the swamp-dwelling, drug-swilling victim of Chinese soldiers. Military vet Gare Cartwright (K.J. Middlebrooks) and Kell (Alyssa Preston), his wearying wife, aim to keep disabled Florian Hale (Brandon Bales), the son of the movement’s martyred leader, out of Chinese hands.


Countering is hard-partying Deng Zedong (Robert Paterno), the new pro-consul, and Maria “Mei Mei” Burrus (Rebecca Larsen), his ruthless American-born attaché. The rebellion’s late founder -- used car salesman-turned-fundamentalist preacher Bay Ray Hale (a video-projected Bruno Oliver) -- completes an outsized roster of darkly satirical archetypes.

At least, that seems the intent of playwright Ken Ferrigni’s text, and pitting homeless legions and disenfranchised returning vets against a foreign superpower’s oppression is something that Matt Stone and Trey Parker would recognize.

Unfortunately, even dark satire requires a lighter hand than evidenced here. The real-life parallel issues are anything but comic fodder, which puts form and content at odds, the nihilistic ending less grimly ironic than grimacing.

Director Ben Rock assembles a typically cutting-edge Sacred Fools design team, particularly Matt Richter’s lighting and DeAnne Millais’ evocative set. But he and his game cast are tonally all over the map -- how could it be otherwise? Neither pure satire nor stark drama, “Occupation” is an inherently intriguing idea, but, alas, a wildly inchoate play.

“Occupation,” Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope, L.A. Mature audiences. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, also April 16 and 23. Ends May 9. $20. (310) 281-8337 or Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.