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Comedy of Terrors

Photo by Lee Wochner
IN THE SUPERHUMANS, TOM SCANLON'S SNAPPY FARCE (at Silver Lake's Moving Arts), a portly character named Sal (Brad Henson) -- attired in an orange shirt and bright-yellow tie -- sits at home (an essentially barren stage) watching helplessly as his wife, Sally (Frankie Cohen), packs her bags. A portrait of the Supreme Pontiff hanging on the wall tells you pretty much all you need to know about this fellow. Sal is not so much a character as an emblem of Catholic conservatism whose passion is stoked by a hatred for his Marxist-atheist rival, Sol (Mark Chaet). "You love to hate him more than you love me," Sally remarks on her way to the door.

In a different scene, slender Sol -- identically dressed -- also sits at home (a barren stage) watching helplessly as his dog (James Smith) yawns at his master's ruminations upon the struggles of the proletariat -- a diatribe that tests the limits even of canine loyalty. (For, like Sally, the pooch is also planning an escape.) A single portrait of Castro hanging on the wall tells you pretty much all you need to know about Sol.

Scanlon's often brutal satire springs from the pope's visit to Cuba, where feeble Catholicism walked gingerly among the shards of communism (and the shattered ideals of America's political left). Writing to the pope, Sal begs him that if the Vatican is really involved with the CIA and international intrigue, please don't write back. Sol, seeing the visage of his idol Karl Marx (Henson), asks him why he's not upset about the death of communism. "How can something be dead that was never born?" Marx fires back casually. Just wait.

Marx's pronouncement is underscored by the presence of Blight (Smith again), a deranged, war-wounded veteran turned CEO (his dad made him volunteer for all three branches of the military) who downsizes his employees (Sol and Sal), himself and -- presumably -- the world economy into oblivion. Sol and Sal's hatred rips them to shreds, while Blight -- the real cause of their distress -- looks on, bemused.

In an allegory on this scale, there's simply no room for psychological realism. Under Matt Almos' zippy staging, the play is part Gogol, part Ionesco and mostly Jules Feiffer. The Superhumans consists of a series of comic-book sketches that reveal a kind of Hegelian dialectic: thesis, then antithesis, leading to grace. For Sal and Sol are, of course, the same man, floating through the firmament. The play has at least three scenes too many, and Sally is conspicuously absent from one scene in which she's the crux -- yes, this is Scanlon's first play. But what a debut. The stage may be the size of a closet, but talk about a room with a view.

The players are all terrific comedians, and Brian Benison's original baroque-tinged score sets a tone that brings poetry to politics.

THE SUPERHUMANS
By TOM SCANLON | At MOVING ARTS | 1822 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake | Through April 11

The 20th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards, with Charlotte Rae, Chris Wells, Circle X Theater Company, Karen Finley, the casts of Naked Boys Singing!, Falsettos, the Pasadena Shakespeare Company, and others, will be held at the Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown, on Monday, April 19, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.); reception to follow. The posting of nominees can be found online at www.laweek
ly.com. Admission for all nominees plus one guest is free; for all others, $12. All queries and RSVPs can be made on the Awards hot line: (323) 993-3693. Please make checks payable to L.A. Weekly c/o Lisa Yu, 6715 Sun-set Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028. Checks must be received by April 4.

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