Shopping and F**king is a dark and graphic comedy populated by a bunch of lost Londoners who are living on the edge, beyond the fringe. This is a place where shopping and fucking and needing and giving and taking and stealing and eating and using and owning all sort of blend together--a world wherein you and I have (hopefully) not spent a great deal of time, and wouldn't want to. But in this fast, tight, and absolutely compelling production directed by Michael Donald Edwards (who also directed the play at Rhinoceros), two hours is just enough time for a voyeur to get a really good glimpse of that world. It's an unsparing, often humorous look that reveals more than we'd like to admit about a lot of things.
Mark (Andrew Ableson) is a narcissistic addict who shares his digs with a couple named Robbie and Lulu (Melik Malkasian and Mariam Parris), who are cute as a button in that Benneton/strung-out drug abuser way. The threesome is quite cozy in this dilapidated flophouse, until Mark decides he's got to get clean. When he heads off to a drug rehab center, there are suddenly abandonment issues all over the place. When the nearly together Lulu goes to find work, we meet Brian (Michael James Reed)--somewhat older, and a master manipulator who turns a job interview into a scene from his own personal psychodrama. After Mark gets kicked out of rehab, he isn't greeted with open arms by his former cohorts. And so we're introduced to Gary, a scrappy teenage prostitute to whom Mark turns for unconditional sex--because "when you pay it's not a personal relationship."
Plot-wise, nothing in Shopping and F**king that takes us to a new place: The addictive Mark falls in love with Gary, who doesn't want to be loved, and this pisses off Robbie, who's in love with Mark and is so anxious to be loved in turn that he gets Lulu in trouble with Brian...and so on.. We've been here plenty of times and, for fleeting moments, it does get old. But Ravenhill's stylish junkies, prostitutes, and hipsters trying too hard to make their own rules tell a somewhat different story. They speak with a raw, painful honesty. Their emotions are like open sores.
Ableson is terrific as the self-involved Mark, setting a high standard as he reprises his role from San Francisco. Fortunately, under Edwards' direction the rest of the cast has no problem meeting his level. Malkasian is a devastating Robbie, pathetic at one moment and pathological the next. Parris is just super as Lulu, the character with at least one quirky foot touching the ground. Steven Klein is an appealing Gary, and Reed's Brian is both funny and frightening in his analysis of civilization and Disney feature films.
This Shopping and F**king looks great, with a stunningly gritty set by R. Bradford Rabe and Frank McKown's hardcore lighting (although the video needs some tweaking). Michael Mosher's costumes are a kick. And Robby Maclean's sound design, which relies on an insistent techno beat, is spot-on.