Mercury Fur

The U.S. premiere of British playwright Philip Ridley's 2005 shocker unfolds like a muted nightmare set in a vaguely defined near-future time when lawlessness is the order of the day. Two teen brothers, Elliot (Scott Barber) and Darren (Justin Radford), are preparing a filthy, dark, deserted apartment for a party. In menacing, Pinteresque fashion, the event's nature is revealed only bit by bit. That it doesn't hit us all at once doesn't lessen the despair of Ridley's vision, despite an ambivalent ending that holds out the possibility of hope. Dave Barton's deliberately paced staging reveals not only the script's visceral nightmarishness but also its inelegant way of moving characters into and out of the action leading up to what should be—but isn't quite—a tense, shocking climax.

Given the play's melodramatic outlines, Barber's forceful Elliot is remarkably complex, nicely complemented by Radford's hopelessly anxious, drug-addled space cadet Darren. Peter Hagen imbues Darren's new best pal, Naz, with an inquisitive nature, eagerness to please, and shades of femininity. Alexander Price is delicate as Elliott's "girlfriend" Ryan Harris is commanding as Papa Spinx, the 22-year-old head of this loose-knit clan; Elsa Martinez-Philips is fragile as the sheltered, 40-ish "Duchess" and Robert Dean Nunez is hyper, whiny, and not nearly spooky enough as the guest of honor.

Barton and lighting designer Lindsey Suits opt to lower the lights each time a character launches into a monologue, an artifice that disrupts the effect of gradual dimming from late afternoon sunlight to near-total darkness, thereby shattering Ridley's conceit of staging the entire play in real time. Still, this tale emerges as a sort of latter-day Lord of the Flies as Barton's mostly adult cast convincingly portrays teens and young adults who reflect the violence of the world around them while struggling to retain a shred of their humanity.

Presented by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company at the Empire Theater, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. (Also 8 p.m. Mar. 22.) Mar. 2-24. (714) 547-4688. www.rudeguerrilla.org.