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BAFO

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Best and final offer. That's the phrase behind the title of this Tom Strelich comedy—an irreverent satire that pokes fun at American corporate culture. It's also the springboard for Strelich's recurring theme, which touches on the individual quest for identity and a sense of self-worth. To what extent do our jobs define our identity? What do we each have to offer to society and to ourselves? Strelich explores these questions with dark, politically incorrect humor in this story about a burned-out group of defense analysts intent on landing a government contract for their failing company.

Initially tempers flare when the employees learn that their company—a small, predominantly white male firm—has lost the contract to a minority-led competitor. But the conflict explodes when a disgruntled former colleague shows up with an arsenal of weapons and a bloodthirsty agenda. Evidently inflamed by his recent firing, the armed intruder takes the employees hostage and embarks on a brutal mission to discover his own identity by forcing his former peers, at gunpoint, to justify their own existence. The resulting denouement is violent and unexpected; but along the way Strelich uses biting, incisive humor to make his point about some of the stereotypes imposed by society and the oppressive corporate world.

Unfortunately the script loses much of its impact in this offering. Under Sharyn Case's aggressive, heavy-handed direction, the production fails to successfully straddle the line that narrowly separates Strelich's bracing humor and stark brutality. Instead it takes the play's violent overtones too seriously and thereby dilutes Strelich's tongue-in-cheek satire. Furthermore the performers often detract from the rhythm of the script by largely muddling the rapid-fire dialogue that's peppered with defense industry jargon. In the face of these flaws, the staging loses steam quickly and eventually turns the startling conclusion into an anticlimactic event that leaves only a fleeting impression.

Nevertheless, two performances press the right emotional and comedic buttons. As P.K., the gun-toting antagonist, Jay Michael Fraley shows the best grasp of Strelich's satire. He displays an unmatched knack for delivering his lines with a hilarious blend of psychotic menace and deadpan humor. Also adept at capturing the essence of his character is Allen Casey, who portrays Sayles, the lead analyst with a type-A personality. He is especially funny when Sayles' tough exterior gives way to vulnerable cowardice under P.K.'s assault.

The rest of the actors do not fare as well, however. Lacking the precise comic timing and the range of feeling exhibited by Fraley and Casey, they fail to add enough bite and depth to this caustic tale. The result is a lopsided staging that gets Strelich's messages across but does so with insufficient energy and passion.

"BAFO," presented by and at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company, 699-A South State College Blvd., Fullerton. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Feb. 14-Mar. 9. $12-15. (714) 680-6803.

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