Homeland Insecurity

Gil Kofman’s new farce, American Magic, has the look and feel of kinky political satire. Not only is this tweaked fable a refreshing antidote to all the post–9/11 paranoia we’ve been tube-fed by the government and media, it also exhibits a sexy chaos not often glimpsed onstage. Then, halfway through, something goes wrong, and soon all we’re left with are the kinks and chaos.

The story opens at a White House dinner where a pair of Secret Service agents named Don and Ron (Walter Murray and Sonny Perez, respectively) pose as waiters while a magician (Indrajit Sarkar) entertains the president and the first lady. Unfortunately for the nameless magician, he is seized by a mysterious vision that causes him to caution the president about “the new economy of shame” and the “globalization of pain.” Beware, he cryptically warns the chief executive — then a wave of terrorist bombings ripples across America.

The magician quickly finds himself in the clutches of Don and Ron, who interrogate him in what’s described by the program notes as “an urban clothing store.” Talk about weird scenes inside the gold mine: In this ruined emporium, Department of Homeland Security emblems adorn the back of a glassed perfume counter, pink children’s pajamas hang on racks like plucked turkeys, and our magician is similarly hung upside down by his captors.

To be fair, Don and Ron don’t seem overly curious about what secrets he may know — the main thing is that his Southeast Asian skin and red turban fit a certain profile that requires grilling. After a while, their enthusiasm for questioning wanes (or rather, their attention spans contract), and Sarkar’s character, after suffering the occasional beating, anal rape and confinement in a coffin, finds himself having affable conversations with the agents.

All three have their hands full with an icy blond (Lyndsay Rose Kane), a former “Air Force One stewardess” who now enjoys some ill-defined position in the national-security state that has grown in the wake of the terrorist attacks — referenced by occasional loud explosions. The agenda of the Woman (as she is known) is a vague mandate to be sure, although we gather it has something to do with wearing an array of tight-fitting outfits and rubber brassieres, along with coaxing sex and beatings from the men onstage. (In one memorable scene, she gets laid on that perfume counter.)

All this unfolds at 2100 Square Feet with great visual panache and ominous sound effects, thanks to sound designer Leon Rothenberg’s jagged tracks (there’s original music from Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and vintage country pop from Glen Campbell and Merle Haggard, among others), director Matthew Wilder’s set and Brian J. Lilienthal’s light plot, which inventively uses halogen work lamps and red, white and blue fluorescent tubes.

The problem is that Kofman doesn’t seem to know where to take all this, beyond having his characters narcissistically talk about themselves and otherwise speak in an elliptical language filled with mangled buzzwords and phrases. Even a work lacking conventional plotting or political moorings occasionally has to draw a breath and take stock of what’s happening. While spooky voice-overs of the progressively unhinged president (“I am speaking to you from a safe but undisclosed location”), recorded by none other than Richard Foreman, provide some droll interludes, they’re nothing you can hang an evening on. There are certain themes here (immigrant bashing, birth envy) that are presented fairly obviously but are never developed beyond mere suggestions, which will lead viewers to suspect they are watching a one-act whose artistic grasp has exceeded its intellectual reach.

Still, as a current-events circus, Wilder’s production delivers some sharp jolts, thanks in large part to a committed ensemble. Murray and Perez’s comic timing is excellent, and Sarkar’s tortured and bewildered prisoner exudes a bedraggled charm. The evening, however, belongs to Kane, who gamely assumes the guises of cocktease, ballbreaker, mother and whore — a control freak who doesn’t know what she wants. If only Kofman had given her something to say.

AMERICAN MAGIC | By GIL KOFMAN | At 2100 SQUARE FEET, 5615 San Vicente Blvd. | Through July 20

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