Some days doing the right thing just makes things worse, and you know you should have stayed in bed. But even sleeping late can have fatal consequences, as in the case of the tucked-up murder victim in The Altruists.
The main characters in this satirical farce are young protestors who want to get out and demonstrate, make a difference, make themselves heard, and build a better world. But first they have to find their pants. They also have to figure out what the hell they’re supposed to be marching for, who’s been sleeping with whom, and, oh yeah, who soap opera star Sydney has just shot in a fit of pique.
Director Robbie Thomas staged a frothy Frost/Nixon last year at the Footlights, and he adds equal zest to this riotously lewd new Late Night show. He stops Nicky Silver’s story from getting too heavy-handed, ensuring that the playwright’s caricatured protesters are grounded with real world emotions.
Although there are plenty of funny gags, Thomas wisely emphasizes the relationships between the characters. Ronald the social worker (Jesse Budi) is so infatuated with hopped-up prostitute Lance (Nick Smithson) that he’s oblivious to life’s harsh realities — like Lance’s pimp Scar. Ethan (Will Haden) is so infatuated with himself that he’s more interested in getting laid than saving his girlfriend from a murder rap.
The brother-sister bond between Ronald and Sydney (Charley Boyd) is very believable, especially when Sydney puts her hands on her hips and answers back to her sibling. And Cybil (Emily McKay)’s love-hate relationship with her girl fiend Audrey also rings true.
In a typical play, there’s one character whose appearance spices up the show whenever he pops up onstage. Here, there are three. Budi gives his character many amusing and endearing expressions, tics, and vocal variations. Smithson is equably likeable as the pay-me-now rent boy who learns to trust Ronald. Haden captures the essence of the kind of guy who goes through life loving himself more than any woman could, glorying in his role of macho sex god.
In less believable parts, the two actresses maintain the narrative flow despite their lengthy monologues — mostly rants at their significant others or society, men or The Man. Amazingly, Boyd maintains audience sympathy even though her character is a homicidal rich bitch narcissist. As Cybil, McKay is saddled with the least likeable or realistic character. Although she has some memorable lines and moments, she needs to add more variety to her performance to keep it interesting throughout the play. However, the cast as a whole provides fresh evidence that Charleston is turning out intelligent, versatile young actors.
The costumes are black, basic, or non-existent. The altruists wear T-shirts that read “Black Power” or “Fuck Giuliani;” Lance doesn’t wear much at all. The stage is split into three bedroom sets, the center one raised, each reflecting the situations of the characters who inhabit them. (Lance’s eyes match Ronald’s blue wallpaper.) The lighting, designed by Stage Manager Paige Stanley, does not draw undue attention to itself, switching our attention to each scene in quick succession.
It’s no coincidence that the gay bar where Ronald meets Lance is called the Ram Rod. There are no subtle asides here, no obscure witticisms or gentle prods at the proletariat. Silver’s parodies of fly-by-night protesters, closet straights, lipstick liberals, and naïve youths are broad, harsh, and all the funnier for that. There is swearing, smoking, and fucking aplenty, but if you’re not easily offended, this play will make you laugh and make you think about getting all your facts straight before you jump out of bed to take on the world.