want to keep watching, but you can’t take your eyes away. The entire play, all seventy minutes of it, may be nothing more than a log-flume ride of violence, verbal and physical, but it’s oddly compelling, too: an entertaining, satirical, nightmarish “what-if” on just how close our government may be to totalitarianism. Unfortunately, David Barth, the playwright, is all statement and very little substance: the whole show is trigger-happy for effect, and therefore a one-sided, one-dimensional, sloppy wreck. I can’t stop watching.
In the first five minutes of Hard Right, Barth eschews any responsibility to care for his characters, shallow stereotypes that they are, and delves fully into angry, allegorical propaganda. We quickly forget about the “James Dean” of a rebel son, the passive-aggressive father, the sweet but silent supportive girlfriend (there to meet the folks), and the bipolar housewife. All the attention shifts to Bob, the uninvited houseguest if there ever was one (and a plum theatrical part if there ever were one). Bob is psychopathic, but gentle; Bob is full of manic reversals and wild emotional swings; Bob is genuinely frightening and unpredictable; and Bob has a gun, a nightstick, and an agenda.
In Barth’s hands, even the plot is nothing more than a prop, and Hard Right is nothing more than Bob’s shtick: enigmatic moralizing. We don’t just forget the other characters; they cease to exist in “Bob World” (unless you count extended whimpering as bravura performance—if so, Jeremy Beck, who plays the son, should win an award). This is very good for Dylan Price, who uses this over-the-top Bob as a vehicle to rival Christopher McDonald. This is very bad for the rest of the cast, who may perhaps go on to play soon-to-be-dead people in low-budget horror films. It’s not that they’re necessarily terrible actors; they just literally have nothing to do.
Hard Right’s only means of propulsion is a morbid fascination with what exactly Bob is going to do next. The plot’s repetitive, the allegory’s whisper-thin, and should you miss something, Barth repeats it dozens of times. Still, it’s amusing to watch this family being terrorized by such a comedic villain...and it’s frightening to think that maybe, just maybe, this could actually happen. Yes, it’s lowbrow, but it’s a good time for lowbrow political passion plays.
Barth may be a 2005 Edward F. Albee Foundation Fellow, but his writing lacks any real emotion beyond this fear (and loathing). Whereas Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe spun an awkward dinner party and its vicious banter for hours--without being grating or redundant-- Hard Right is shrill after the first few minutes. Think of a gritty SNL sketch that just won’t end. Welcome to Circus Theater: lots of props, loud growling, a mess-load of glitter, one hell of an overbearing ringmaster, and a real spectacle of a plot. As I said before, I can’t stop watching.
Players Theater (115 MacDougal Street)
Tickets: $25.00 (212-352-3101)
Performances: Tuesday-Saturday @ 8:00