The Woodpecker

In playwright Samuel Brett Williams' angry drama of despair, we are introduced to a coterie of tragic characters who virtually line up to debase themselves and turn a potentially pleasant existence into a horror show. Idealistic young Jimmy (Brian Norris) loathes his family life: He's a college dropout who can't find a job and spends his days snorting glue rather than face his miserable existence in the trailer home he shares with his parents. Mom Martha (Tamara Zook) dreamed of being a singer but now lives in a pill-stoked daze, while abusive dad Harold (Mark Withers), in a wheelchair due to a long-ago accident, is so suffused with bitterness, his insane rages frequently threaten to spill over into incoherence. Jimmy pins his hopes for the future on joining the Army, which he believes will turn him into the hero he has always dreamed of being. However, when he arrives in Iraq, events don't turn out as expected. Williams' play so piles on the brutality, bitterness and rage that the piece occasionally threatens to short-circuit into camp. Still, in director Jon Cohn's darkly moody staging, the drama's sense of existential rage is urgent and evocative, while its ferocious emotional charge outweighs the contrived plotting. Norris offers a particularly strong and moving performance as the increasingly tortured son, almost appearing to age and become hollow before our eyes. Compelling turns also are offered by Zook's spacey white-trash mother and by Withers' almost-too-monstrous dad. A Mutineer Theatre Company production. Studio/Stage Theatre, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., thru April 3. (323) 871-5826.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: March 4. Continues through April 10, 2011