Gather round and learn as our hero makes mistake after mistake, hits rock bottom, and turns his life around, achieving his every dream. Except the instructional parts have been left out. Howard Korder's exploration of cultural follies follows the decidedly unpleasant Martin (Bart Petty), a compulsive liar who thinks fear and respect go hand in hand. He simply wants to produce a film based on an adventure novel of sorts, written by a small-time self-help guru with whom Martin is inexplicably obsessed. A raft of bad decisions follows. The penultimate scene has Martin standing by a fresh corpse beside a New Jersey road having been forced to bail on a quarter-million-dollar loan acquired to effect a cocaine deal gone bad. Final scene? Martin in Hollywood (under another name) producing the movie he set out to make in the first scene. Plausibility? None.
That the onus of carrying the show rests on Petty's shoulders is unfortunate. Although the actor displays a low-key proficiency, the role is so relentlessly unpleasant that a performer needs charm to make the audience want to sit around for the better part of two hours. As played by Petty, Martin comes off as the type of character from whom you would back away at a party, a smile frozen on your face, an unspoken prayer of deliverance on your lips. Christian Levatino turns in a fine performance as a sort of Lampwick to Martin's Pinocchio, exuding the proper mix of serpentine good looks and a comfortable amorality. Just about everything in his performance seems right.
David Castellani, as a coke-driven politico, is one of the few other actors with a part large enough to do anything interesting with. Rather than fill out the small parts with a few fun character actors, director Scott Cummins has stocked the show with more than a dozen other bodies, leading to a disjointed production with little flow. It's not clear whether this was done so all company members would get stage time or so there would be sufficient crew to move the geometric set pieces about, a task that displays impressive traffic control, if not alacrity.
Presented by Gangbusters Theatre Company and the Mad Scene Theatre Company at Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Suite D, Hollywood. Tue.-Wed. 8 p.m. (Also Thu. 8 p.m. Mar. 1.) Jan. 23-Mar. 1. (323) 960-4429. www.gangbusterstheatre.com.