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The Altruists

By New York City
From The Altruists
From The Altruists
The Altruists is an over-the-top comedy about a group of East Village poseurs embracing their neurosis while shooting off quips about saving the downtrodden through various methods, including soap operas and rallies to free...um...Nelson Mandela. The play is classic Nicky Silver: often hysterical, but in the end less fulfilling than some of his classics (Raised in Captivity, Pterodactyls).

The acting is superb, led by Veanne Cox as Sydney, a super-neurotic soap opera star. Before shooting her narcissistic boyfriend, who has a yen for out-of-this-world sex and non-stop philandering, Sydney tries winning back his love by explaining she is needy, yes, but a good person. After all, her character, Montana Beach, brings hope and inspiration to thousands of housewives across the country, she tells him, before putting three bullets in his back.

Freaked out by what she's done, Sydney runs to her younger brother Ronald (Joey Slotnick), who is in middle of trying to convince Lance, a male prostitute he picked up the night before, that they are in love. The narcissistic Ronald, who can hardly stop his mouth from running off, is a social worker with a long history of saving lost souls, and Lance is his "vocation made real." But Lance is also not Ronald's first of such project, we learn. As a precocious 12-year-old Ronald took five after-school jobs in order to support an Ethiopian girl he adopted through a TV commercial--before having to go into the hospital to recover from exhaustion (where he met other people recovering from exhaustion who were also supporting the same Ethiopian girl).

Meanwhile, Sydney's spoiled/cheating boyfriend Swallow (Sam Robards) is stumbling out of bed with Cybil (played to perfect pitch by the versatile Kali Rocha), a highly militant lesbian with a long history of "somehow" ending up in bed with men. Swallow promises to get Sydney's car to help ferry supplies to the rally for a cause that no one seems able to remember. Before being cut off mid-soliloquy by Sydney, we learn that Swallow is the not-so-young son of a doctor, who marches for a laundry list of causes (including the rights of Swedes) in order, it seems, to justify his no-commitment slumming lifestyle.


From The Altruists
From The Altruists
Swallow, upon returning home to retrieve Sydney's keys, finds a dead body in his bed, which he assumes belongs to Sydney. When he races off to tell Roland his sister is dead, the identification of the dead body propels the play towards its somewhat dark conclusion. On the way, the characters' amusing obliviousness to their hypocritical politics makes them universally appealing.

There are some hysterical moments that reinforce how ironic the title of the play truly is. Sydney and Ronald get into a very funny "taste great/less filling" argument about who has suffered more, black lesbians or Hispanic gays. Cybil, who brags her cut-off black pants were eaten that way by rats, tries to remember whether to bring smoke bombs or fire bombs to a political rally whose cause continues to escape her. And Sydney and Lance, who reveals he never works Mondays or holidays, get into a ludicrous misunderstanding over drug vernacular.

The climax of the play involves all the characters working together to figure out what to do with the dead body, and to find out the best way to continue their various dysfunctional relationships. It gets tricky, to say the least.

The set design (Neil Patel) and lighting (Kenneth Posner) punctuate the quick action of the play. The costumes (Teresa Snider-Stein) and direction by long-time Silver collaborator David Warren, bring the characters into intense clarity. The production takes off on high pitch and really doesn't slow down. It is an extraordinarily amusing play, but the snappy lines and hysterical action leave one feeling a little empty. Still, it is signature Silver, where the love and disdain he has for his characters become humorously, and darkly, indistinguishable.


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