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Men of Tortuga

The Men of Tortuga
Robert Pescovitz and Alan Brooks
Three "suits" in a pristine office entertain a scruffy guest. And what becomes clear in the very first minutes of Jason Wells's Men of Tortuga is that the suits are hiring themselves an expert to kill an opponent. They've only got one chance to get this murder right—the target will be present at a meeting in a high-rise on a particular day, and they need their assassin to shoot him then or all will be lost. Taggart, the assassin, figures a high-powered rifle can cover the necessary distance, but shattering the thick glass of a skyscraper window may throw off the bullet's trajectory. If the target's death is that important, Taggart says, his employers should consider a different means. If they don't mind the collateral damage of, say, killing everyone in the room (or on the floor, or in the building), a missile might be a better bet. And if they really, really want him dead, the very best way to guarantee his death is to have someone on their team in the room with him, willing to give his life make sure the target is in the line of fire. The question, says Taggart, is how badly do they want it.

Very badly, it turns out. While the men initially express a bit of resistance when Taggart raises the possibility of taking additional lives, they're quickly convinced when they realize that surgical precision has such a low chance of success. Moral objections are given a brief—very brief—airing, but the suits here have a lot of money, and a lot of desire to kill their opponent, and they'd rather take out a lot of innocents than give up on their plan. Besides, they quickly tell themselves, is anyone who is going to be in that room really innocent?

The play is billed as a comedic thriller, which it is whenever our trio is gleefully sliding down the slippery slope of amorality, or Taggart is demonstrating his vast array of knowledge (often illustrating concepts with items taken from a nearby fruit bowl—Jesus as an orange and the apostles as clementines is particularly amusing). The laughs stop coming, however, with the addition of a fifth character, Allan, a young idealist who tries to sell our team on a complex compromise agreement that would eliminate the need for the murder Allan has no idea they are planning.

The play's second scene is a lengthy dialogue between Allan and Kit, the eldest and most committed of our team of would-be assassins. It's one of those scenes where the older guy is trying to teach the younger guy something by talking around what it is that he's trying to say. (And it doesn't entirely help things that we still don't know exactly who these people are. They seem corporate, although there are some suggestions that the dispute they're willing to kill for is a governmental one. Wells is trying to paint with a broad brush here, but the deliberate vagueness makes it difficult for the viewer to get a handle on what is at stake.) Things start moving again, though, when Allan tells Kit that he'll be pitching his compromise at the meeting, and Kit realizes that he's inadvertently taken under his wing a young man he's planning to kill as collateral damage.

As the play goes on, there are a few unexpected twists which complicate matters. There is no honor among thieves, and even less among pirates (hat tip to the model pirate ship on the office bookshelf, which quietly confirms the meaning of the play's title). The dialogue is smart (even when its speakers are being stupid), and director Alexis Chamow keeps everything (except that lengthy Allan/Kit scene) moving along at a snappy pace. The play is a single act which nicely builds to a climax, although not much of a resolution (another apparently deliberate choice of the playwright, preferring to leave open issues in the audience's head than to tidily wrap things up for his characters). Performances are solid, with exceptional comic work from Robert Pescovitz as Taggart, and Alan Brooks as Jeff, the conspirator who quickly works himself into a red-faced rage whenever things don't appear to be going his way.

Men of Tortuga is Furious Theatre Company's final production in the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, upstairs at the now-closed Pasadena Playhouse. There's something incredibly sad about walking through the empty courtyard, knowing that the playhouse within is dark indefinitely. But there's also hope in knowing that Furious survives, and continues to provide quality productions of thoughtful plays.

Men of Tortuga runs at the Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre through March 28, 2010. For tickets and information, see www.furioustheatre.org.

Furious Theatre Company presents Men of Tortuga by Jason Wells. Directed by Alexis Chamow. Stage Manager Laura Perez; Set Design Sara Ryung Clement; Lighting Design Christie Wright; Sound Design Doug Newell; Costume Design Leah Piehl; Props Design Shannon Dedman; Graphic Design Eric Pargac; Assistant Stage Manager Danny Ochoa; Marketing and Publicity David Elzer/DEMAND PR; Production Manager Christie Wright; Master Carpenter Michael Turner; Production Photographer Anthony Masters; Master Electrician Jen Skinner; Electrics Crew Mark "Fluffy" Anderson and Matt Petosa; Set Construction Michael Turner, Brandon Dobbins, and Danny Ochoa; Running Crew Deidre Works.

Cast:
Jeff Kling - Alan Brooks
Kit Maxwell - Dana J. Kelly, Jr.
Allan Fletcher - Michael Matthys
Tom Avery - William Salyers
Taggart - Robert Pescovitz


Photo: Anthony Masters


- Sharon Perlmutter






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