Confusion may be a theme of writer-director Pavel Cerny's loose adaptation of this Czech play, but the pervasive sense of disorganization for the entire 60-minute running time distracts instead of informs and entertains. Whether it's because of a lack of rehearsal or the double casting of three roles, the weak ensemble performance shares the blame with sloppy direction and a repetitive script for a production with few redeeming qualities.
There's no story beyond five soldiers camping in a small clearing on an island in Vietnam during the war. Sgt. Crackmiller (Matthew Rimmer) leaves on a scouting mission, putting one of the four privates, Bernstein (Patrick Koffel), in charge of the other three: Rozden (Ira Gold), Pershing (Darrel Bryan), and Johnson (Joseph Alvarez). The remaining plot consists of running on and off stage, throwing camping gear, and unmotivated paranoid rants about whether Pershing may have killed the sergeant, who doesn't return.
It's no picnic trying to place the action on a downstage quarter of the stage (the Whitefire concurrently hosts It's the Housewives); and without room, the running around and fighting looks clumsy. At the performance reviewed, poorly designed important sound cues appeared to play at the wrong times, which damaged any hopes of creating a tense mood. It's unfair to single out any performances, but each actor took turns dropping or flubbing lines, and none of the characters seemed realistic. Often it seemed actors were ad-libbing. Exit and entrance points make little sense, actors "running into the jungle" from stage left and returning stage right. Perhaps Cerny wants a sense of confusion, but without a strong emotional through-line, there's nothing left but dull chaos.
Presented by and at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Feb. 17–Mar. 24. Tue., 8 p.m. (868) 811-4111 or Theater Mania.