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LA Theater Review

Rantoul and Die

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Shock and awe operate overtime in this crude, brutish, often hilarious dissertation on the ugly behavior of redneck yobos behaving badly. Nevertheless it is sneakily insightful. The shock is stirred by the ferocity of the vicious mutual cruelty of four lost souls in Rantoul, Ill., one of those small-dot towns scattered through America's flatlands. Beer and soft-serve ice cream are the main crops of this richly agricultural area, with a few french fries thrown in to keep up the calorie count. Rallis, a poor, pathetic slob, in a prime performance by Rich Hutchman, has hacked at his own wrists with a hunting knife because his wife, Debbie (a marvelously awful Cynthia Ettinger, dutifully plump and seriously sassy), due home from her shift at the DQ, is chucking him out, bag and baggage. Walking in on Rallis as he's trying to off himself is the monstrously funny, severely dangerous Gary (a terrific Paul Dillon), a longtime buddy who has absorbed the patter of TV therapists.

The awe is provided by an amazing cast that creates characters who have swallowed the debased white-trash, redneck culture whole. The resulting sludge makes us laugh or cry, or just scream for help, though it surely comes from the bruised heart of playwright Mark Roberts, a native of Rantoul. The script is so well observed and honest that even while we cringe at the faint universal echoes of bad relationships and the odious markdown of a culture, there's no stopping the laughter.

Until the laughter dies. Lisa Rothschiller, utterly right as the mousy DQ manager, tells her story in an unsettling, gory monologue that doesn't belong in the same play, maybe serving as expiation for Roberts' making us laugh but leaving a sick headache in its wake. Erin Quigley's direction has a brilliant energy that gets everything together and keeps it there, at a heart-pounding pace—a mixed blessing.

Presented by Stephen Eich and Don Foster at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way,
Hollywood. May 16–July 4. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,
7 p.m. (323) 960-4424
. www.rantoulanddie.com.

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