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LA Theater Review

An Impending Rupture of the Belly

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Matt Pelfrey's galvanizing black comedy resembles those nightmares that nag at one's psyche the following day -- too off-kilter to accept as reality, yet infused with imagery too haunting to dismiss. Spinning a tragicomic fable of paranoia and violence in suburban America, this powerful new play might be thought of as an update to Jules Feiffer's Little Murders for the post-Sept. 11 terrorist age. Director Dรกmaso Rodriguez leads a superlative cast through a lightning-paced production that steadily progresses from hilarity to horror, as the tension escalates like an ever-tightening vise.

Clay (Eric Pargac) is an average-Joe family man in Pasadena; he and his wife, Terri (Aubrey Saverino), joyously anticipate the birth of their first child. Yet Clay is increasingly wary of the dangers of the modern age and is determined to protect his family -- fearing that if terrorists don't strike, natural disasters or flipped-out citizens will. Clay suffered through a road-rage attack on Sept. 11, 2006, and his pessimistic work supervisor (Doug Newell) drills thoughts of doomsday into his head. When a boorish neighbor (Troy Metcalf) disrespects Clay's property, the situation spins wildly out of control.

Rodriguez helms a seamless ensemble effort. Pargac finds the perfect balance between empathetic Everyman and foolhardy neurotic; his climactic character shift is bone-chilling. The superb Saverino provides the requisite voice of reason, though her character makes a fatal error of judgment. Shawn Lee elicits huge laughs as Clay's dope-dependent slacker brother, rationalizing his self-destructive lifestyle at every turn. Metcalf excels as the exasperating neighbor, and Newell is equally effective as a self-appointed moral compass for Clay who takes apparent delight in Clay's turmoil.

The milieu is spellbinding: the unnerving noises of honking horns and barking dogs emanating from Cricket S. Myers' fine soundtrack, the congested landscape of skeletal homes in Dan Jenkins' inspired scenic design, and the unnerving mood shifts in Christie Wright's fabulous lighting design. Powered by up-to-the-minute relevance, Furious Theatre Company's premiere staging of Pelfrey's thought-provoking work is mesmeric from the first moment to the last.

Presented by Furious Theatre Company at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7:30 p.m. Apr. 7-May 12. (800) 595-4849. www.furioustheatre.org.

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