Say you got everything you ever wanted in a partner: a mate made to order -- with a lifelong commitment, to boot. What could possibly go wrong? Playwright Rita Valencia takes this very human dilemma into the very near future in her new work, but here the perfect spouse is a sweet young cyborg who's paired with a predictably changeable woman in a tragically imperfect world. No, it's not an entirely new scenario. And that's pretty much what we're left with in this world premiere: very fun and smart stuff, but not enough we haven't seen before.
A New World War centers on Galoise (Jack Littman), he of the advanced transgenic technology, and Antar (Niamh McCormally), an airheaded party girl who lives to shop. She's doing her part to fight terrorism in the new world order, where "there is always a place to look not to find a war." Early on, we see strains in the partnership -- and the partners straining to fulfill their roles -- and director Guy Zimmerman infuses their interactions with a stylized energy. But the conflict heats up when the outside world intrudes upon Antar and Galoise's preprogrammed haven, in the form of a brawny, blood-soaked insurgent named Charly (Andy Hopper). The play becomes infinitely more compelling when the charismatic Hopper and McCormally, adorably torn, connect; when the ubiquitous Mother-in-Law (Gray Palmer) arrives to calm the marital waters, things get even better. Palmer is fantastic, and it's with this character that writer Valencia is most successful in combining the personal and political, injecting social issues into domesticity with a satisfying bite.
However, despite several terrific performances, the onstage world created by John Zalewski's tremendous sound design (credit also to Jeffrey Atherton's set, Dan Reed's lighting, and kicky costumes by Valencia) and a strong directorial hand, A New World War feels awfully familiar. And although the playwright occasionally throws lovely surprises at us -- "seeing the world through your vagina" is truly inspired -- her original voice seems somewhat stifled, or perhaps bogged down by cyborg lyricism.
Presented by Padua Playwrights Productions at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre, 5636 Melrose Ave., L.A. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Apr. 14-May 12. (213) 625-1766. www.paduaplaywrights.net.