Though it poses as a Bunuelian comedy of manners, San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's broad suburban satire is to the surrealist master's dissections of bourgeois hypocrisy what a baseball bat is to a surgeon's scalpel. Nachtrieb's comic meat is the venerable dinner party gone bad. Pam (Sara Hennessy) and Richard (Doug Newell) play host to high school chums Wendy (Vonessa Martin) and Tom (Steven Schub) to observe the couples' mutual, 12th wedding anniversary. That there is little to celebrate becomes quickly apparent. The priapic ex-jock Richard is an insatiable carnivore with a literal blood lust (the play opens with him slaughtering a lamb on the living-room floor for the evening roast) that disgusts the sexually repressed Pam. The concupiscent, maternally frustrated Wendy loves flesh (especially, as it turns out, Richard's), much to the dismay of the salad-eating, sexually impotent Tom. If such unlikely marital mismatches and simmering sexual yearnings are the stuff of comic dynamite, Nachtrieb never finds the fuse. Blame an overdeveloped taste for the obvious. Nachtrieb's characters are too immediately transparent and one-note; they muster neither the dignity to feed a farce nor the dimensionality to sustain the most superficial of sitcoms. Director Damaso Rodriguez's puzzling inability to stage the surfeit of visual and physical gags allows the audience to get so far ahead of the punch lines, the laughter never quite catches up. Pasadena Playhouse, Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (626) 356-PLAY. A Furious Theatre Company production.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Starts: Jan. 24. Continues through Feb. 28, 2009