Eat the Runt

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The ironies surrounding this pitch-black farce by Robert Riechel Jr. extend beyond what transpires onstage. It's a weird experience to review a play about a theatre critic who is kidnapped, terrorized, and brutalized by the playwright following said critics' scathing review of the scribe's first work. It's stranger yet that Riechel takes the role of the loose-cannon playwright in his debuting work Eat the Runt, as well as directing it. Free of any duress or threats of bodily harm — albeit somewhat chagrined by whispers and chuckles among audience members that a critic was present — it's my pleasure to report that Riechel's Joe Orton-esque satire is trenchantly clever and a genuine laugh riot. A staff writer for the Fresno Bee, identified only as the Man (Peter Leake), is abducted from his home by first-time playwright Buck Lone (Riechel) and dragged — blindfolded, gagged, and wearing pajamas — to the hulking Buck's apartment. The writer's accomplice is his girlfriend, Hammer (Victoria Engelmayer), an insatiable bimbo with a penchant for coke sniffing and a yen for men she perceives as creative prodigies. Buck becomes further enraged when he discovers that this journalist who trashed his self-proclaimed masterpiece about multiple Jesus figures appearing on Earth is the paper's obituary writer, tapped to write occasional reviews in the sleepy berg. Writer-director-actor Riechel excels on all counts. The 80-minute play moves at a breakneck pace, and the mix of laughs and chills is formidable. His lunatic wannabe Mamet is an inspired comic creation — part Gestapo brute, part Vin Diesel on speed. Engelmayer's depraved tart is likewise a hoot: a pea-brained floozy dumb enough to be dangerous. Leake gives a superbly multilayered portrayal as the victimized critic — sometimes pitiable, sometimes as contemptible as his abusers. Design elements, particularly Adam Haas Hunter's marvelously detailed set, are exemplary. We've seen kidnap-and-revenge plays before; Extremities and P.S. Your Cat Is Dead come to mind. Yet Riechel's scathing send-up of pretensions and delusion among those surrounding the creative-arts arena — participants, chroniclers, and hangers-on — is bracingly original and bristles with resonant observations.

Presented by Living Edge Theaterworks in association with the Red Bark Corporation at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Nov. 1-Dec. 13. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m. (323) 960-7721 or