<i>Cannibals Alone</i>

Lonni Silverman

Steph Deferie’s Cannibals Alone bears the surface markings of a timely dystopian drama, with an all-female cast of tough characters you wouldn’t want to mess with. The feminist angle is commendable; otherwise, the play lacks cogency and reeks of bad TV melodrama of the sci-fi variety.

The setting is a small cottage in the woods, shared, for the past four years, by long-time pals Rae (Courtney Sara Bell) and Mags (Heather Lynn Smith). It appears these gun-toting gals are part of a subversive network, acting in resistance to a totalitarian political system that has dealt with a ubiquitous plague by locking away the sick in detention camps. Rae’s adjusted well to their isolation, but Mags is getting antsy; she’d like to move on, to relaunch some semblance of a normal life. She’s begun an affair with a cop who they’ve been paying off to help conceal their underground hiding place. This infuriates Rae, who perceives Mags as taking unnecessary risks and betraying their safety for some trivial hanky-panky. They argue about this at length before a third character, Callie (Margaret Glaccum), appears on their doorstep.

Callie claims to be an escapee from the camp and is seeking assistance, but Rae and Mags suspect her of being “Medical,” part of a special policing force that hunts down contaminated individuals. What to do? They alternate between getting chummy with their timorous guest and terrorizing her before they finally come to a decision.

One problem with the writing is the murkiness of the background story. Details are scant. There’s a vague reference to a guy named “Carlos,” but few particulars are given. Rae is concerned about Mags’ possible betrayal, but of what cause? And what exactly are these cagey ladies up to anyway? It’s all very opaque until about three quarters of the way through when we finally learn the roots of Rae’s ire and commitment, only to discover that they are both illogical and ignoble.

All this makes the staging of a viable production close to impossible. It would be gratifying to report that the performers triumphed over the text and the plot — which is seeded with violence and torture — but, under Julia Plostnieks’ direction, they do not. Smith comes off best with a plausible persona, but shipwrecks on the implausible things her character is called on to do or say. In various ways the other performers overact — but then their roles are ludicrous to begin with, with people brandishing guns and tying each other up and wrestling on the floor.  The fight choreography comes off as stagey as well, although the performers gamely give it their best shot. The set (Ann Hurd) is modest but apt.

The Belfry Stage, Upstairs at the Crown, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood;  through March 4; $20. (818) 849-4039, theatreunleashed.org.


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