Stage

Billy Budd is a blond, "welkin-eyed" boy, pressed into service with the British navy after 10 years of merchant sailing, most recently aboard The Rights of Man ("Goodbye to you, old Rights of Man!" he calls out in Herman Melville's short novel, totally ignorant of what he's saying). "Welkin-eyed" and blond describe Eric Flom perfectly: He looks bred for this role, and he plays Budd with a believable, measured innocence. Billy's nemesis on the warship, John Claggart, is a power-drunk master-at-arms played intelligently by Simon Vance. He's the embodiment of wartime discipline. The struggle between Billy's innocence and Claggart's corrupt experience is the story's main rigging, and it's dramatized intelligently by Flom and Vance. "Have you not got sense and spleen enough to be cowardly?" Claggart asks, when Billy won't bow to him. "No sir, I guess not."

When Claggart falsely accuses the boy of mutiny, Billy strikes him dead, and then the ship's captain has a real case of mutiny to settle. Lawrence Lee Jones is excellent as Capt. Vere, a burly, round sea commander with a belting, pugnacious voice; his manner has the right balance of authority and justice to set him apart from the master-at-arms. The Billy-vs.-Claggart struggle continues in Vere's own conscience during Billy's trial, and Jones really agonizes, almost whining with the strain of having to condemn the boy. The trouble is that Vere doesn't agonize enough. This may be a problem with the script. I thought that if I just stood up and shook Capt. Vere I could keep him from hanging Billy. The show also gets hobbled slightly by Pat McCulloch, who plays the old, oracular seaman known as the Dansker. He carries some of the story's philosophical weight, but McCulloch seems too nervous to give his character any life. In the end Billy's death doesn't sound any echoes or even seem inevitable, so the play feels like an elaborate reading of Billy Budd, a good rendition but not the depth-experience tragedy promised by the cold salt air and mildew smells inside the Thayer.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Something.
Someguy. Written and directed by Mark Routhier. Starring Matthew Rozen, Emilie Talbot, Richard Ciccarone, and P.A. Cooley. Presented by Mettle Theater at Venue 9, 252 Ninth St. (at Folsom), through Sept. 13. Call 648-0480.

Allegories or morality plays first originated in medieval Europe, when priests transposed biblical teachings for the masses who could not understand the Latin services. With its army of personified abstractions and ascending path of object lessons, the genre is well-suited to communists, Catholics, corporate CEOs, and other ideologues, but most contemporary theater can't support the weight of such an intrinsically pedantic form. All too often characters succumb to cliche rather than aspire to archetypes; and their spiritual transformations end up feeling both contrived and obscure.

In its first scenes, Mark Routhier's Someguy seems stuck in its genre's intellectual vulgarity. Some guy named Someguy loses all his money in a con game with a clown named God. God spouts some philosophical maxims and leaves him penniless. Someguy goes in search of Death and finds her, in the form of a pregnant bicycle messenger, flirting and drinking with God in a bar. The dialogue crashes about, heavy with cleverness and philosophy, but at this point we don't really care about abstractions like God or Death, and Someguy's particular situation still feels generic. Then God leaves and the suicidal Someguy begins flirting with Death, revealing to her all the reasons he has become disillusioned with life. "That's a bunch of Gen X malarkey," Death snaps. In that moment, brow-furrowing confusion lifts and Routhier's morality tale of disenfranchised youth takes flight.

The play borrows its title and structure from Everyman, the anonymously written 16th-century drama depicting a Christian man's journey to Death. In Everyman, Death summons Everyman, who approaches various anthropomorphized ideas (Goods, Beauty, etc.), only to find that he can't take them with him. Routhier inverts this plot -- depicting Someguy as the seducer of Death, someone who has turned away from a world of relationships and meaning. In the process, he subverts the form's usual Christian piety without pillaging its earnest core. "I want to be loving and understanding and nonjudgmental, but I'm filled with jealousy and pettiness and scorn," declares Someguy in his eloquent, if shamelessly sentimental, appeal to Death.

Instead of giving him a cursory kiss and ending his misery, Death leads him through a night crowded with sublime characters. Beauty (Melanie Sliwka) and Knowledge (P.A. Cooley), two effete courtiers, inculcate him into their respective temptations. Joy (Sliwka) and Comfort (Kate Sheehan), two street hookers, give him a double blow job. A bum named Sanity (a supernaturally vivid Richard Ciccarone) offers him a cigarette while a gangsta named Control (Robert Rothrock) nearly blows off his head.

With a mix of quixotic passion, wry humor, and a mastery of the extended metaphor, Routhier somehow renovates the allegorical fairy tale. In one scene, two Euro-trash club rats named Angst and Blame try to initiate Someguy into their ongoing romance with Death. As the dialogue unfolds, Routhier runs through the different ways people flirt with death, allowing him to skewer the romanticization of goth culture, drug use, private neuroses, and AIDS, all with a single metaphor.

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