Noteworthy intent permeates “Bad Apples” in its Circle X Theatre Company premiere. Jim Leonard, Rob Cairns and Beth Thornley’s surreal take on Baghdad’s infamous military prison is nothing if not original.
Welcome to Club Abu, which designer François-Pierre Couture’s thrust set places directly in our laps, like a U.S.O. variant on “Cabaret” by way of “The Threepenny Opera.” Directed by John Langs with typical invention and a brilliant design team, “Bad Apples” spans three prismatic acts while following ringleader Sgt. Chuck Shepard (James Black) and the two soldiers he has impregnated.
Pvt. Lindsay Skinner (Kate Morgan Chadwick) is an Arkansas naif. Lt. Scott (Meghan McDonough) has career-military priorities. Their scenario jockeys with rap numbers, rock ballads, pole-dance-gone-martial choreography by Cassandra Daurden, gung-ho musings from Pfc. Curt “Conny” Lingus (Ian Merrigan) and more. Much, much too much more.
Sometimes, thanks to a solid ensemble, “Bad Apples” attains a twisted gravitas, as when Act 1 ends with two 9/11 highjackers going from a final lark at Pizza Hut to an airplane cockpit. More often, Leonard’s libretto (which needs severe trims) and Cairns and Thornley’s songs (which want further additions) uneasily juggle reality television rawness, sometimes questionable humor and San Francisco Mime Troupe mayhem.
Content and form thus clash with tone, the finale of hopeful National Guard enlistees ironic in theory, backward in effect. The world might be ready to see a serious rock musical based on the Abu Ghraib detainee-abuse scandal. This ambitiously overloaded, imposingly executed labor of love isn’t necessarily ready to be seen yet.
“Bad Apples,” Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 1. $22 and $28. (323) 664-1929 or www.circlextheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.