The Projectionist is the tightest play by Michael Sargent I've seen, and this structural discipline really allows his keen observations and piercing wit to come blazing through. Designer Chris Covics has transformed the lobby of the Kirk Douglas Theater into the lobby of the dilapidated Art Movie Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in 1983 (the Douglas' ante-lobby becomes the movie-house's projection room). We're perched on bleachers, spying not only on the end of an era for a B-movie “art” house but also the end of hope for the young projectionist, Randy Shaw. Hamish Linklater is just superb as the twitchy, flinching, bewildered drug addict whose UCLA grad-school filmmaking ambitions lie discarded with all the used popcorn buckets and candy wrappers. In the body of his work, Sargent turns the abject failure of his central characters into high art, and Randy's failure embeds itself into the play with the arrival of his grad-school peer Ian (Christian Leffler), who's just swinging by this seventh level of Hell — which Randy pretty much runs entirely by himself — to see a flick. When Ian offers Randy a job, the scene is the punk equivalent from Death of a Salesman, when Willy Loman's next-door neighbor, Charlie, offers the unemployed salesman a lifeline, and he, too, snubs his would-be savior — only Willy is more polite about it. A hint of romanticism walks in the door with the arrival of young Kim Refro (Brittany Slattery) looking for a job — “I feel like the bait in a zombie movie.” Kim obviously takes a shine to the awkward young manager, though he's not technically the manager. The real manager (Barry Del Sherman) hasn't shown up for a week; and when he does, it's with a knife and floozy (Tara Chocol Joyce) in tow, along with aspirations of armed robbery. There are very strong suggestions that the Art Theater is actually part of a Russian Mafia porn operation, and Randy's moment in impetuous, addiction-inspired glory in the midst of a gun battle seals Sargent's Oscar Wilde–ish view on the possibilities of human redemption. Grand performances also by Lauren Campedelli, Hugh Dane, Don Oscar Smith and Maynor Alvarado. Bart DeLorenzo's atmospheric staging is spot-on, as are Ann Closs-Farley's costumes, Anne Militello's lighting and John Ballinger's sound design, all of which combine to cement a past that you can't run fast enough from. It's a weird combination, leaving the theater with a grin on your face while also feeling the strong need to take a shower. Douglas Plus at the Kirk Douglas Theater, call for schedule; through April 4. (213) 638-2772.

March 26-28, 8 p.m.; April 2-3, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 4, 7 & 9:30 p.m., 2009

LA Weekly