It begins with a fart and ends with an orgasm. Peter J. Nieves' new play marks the third of the Evidence Room's "Hollywood Stories" trilogy. Billed as a contemporary take on the Don Juan story, Cringe is set against a Hollywood backdrop. But the characters populating this Hollywood aren't our friends and neighbors. These people are all--yes, all--perverted sexual misfits out only for themselves. It is a depressing proposition that never takes off. For while we are treated to myriad sex and excrement talk, there is nothing of substance beneath it.
Co-directors Bart DeLorenzo and Nieves have assembled a talented cast for this twisted morality tale. Dan Butler is persuasive as the bullying studio producer, snotty and self-absorbed. The gravel-voiced Pamela Gordon plays the manipulative independent producer with snarls and purrs. Tara Chocol's portrayal of a spiky blonde publicist grates with just the right mix of sweet and sour, while Dorie Barton, as a waitress/actress, cuts an appealing figure, simple and plainspoken amid the insanity. The Don Juan character is Jack Cringe, played by the dark and intense Christian Leffler, whose brooding facade flashes savage on the turn of a dime and who captures the childish ferocity of this self-righteous sinner, abusing his sexual power and fame with unfettered abandon. Scenic design by Jason Adams is sparse and cold, while Lap-Chi Chu's lighting, though sometimes too dark to see by, effectively isolates the actors in the emptiness.
The play begins with an artist-vs.-Hollywood-machine struggle, but it quickly descends into scene after scene of racist epithets and long, graphic descriptions of sexual encounters. Some of the scenes seem to serve no purpose but to showcase a character's graphic sex monologue. These devices are no doubt meant to shock and alarm us, but they go on and on, so that by the second act there is nothing but device in sight. Sex is described so many times in such repetitive detail it becomes a sort of pornographic wallpaper, which might be less frustrating if there were something shocking or revealing in front of it.
Perhaps Jack Cringe--note the initials--is supposed to be the innocent one here, dragged from artistic purity into the soul-scathing soup of compromise, but he and everyone else are so inhuman it's hard to care. Everything in this Hollywood is just plain ugly.