Alfredo Narciso, Patch Darragh, and Jess Weixler in Safe
(© George McLaughlin)
Alfredo Narciso, Patch Darragh, and Jess Weixler in Safe
(© George McLaughlin)
At one charged moment in Safe, now at Studio Dante, Ron Fitzgerald explicitly reminds us that "God is in the details." Implicitly through his 70-minute one-act, however, his ceaselessly pungent dialogue demonstrates that expert writing is also in the details -- even if the story Fitzgerald unfolds through is hardly fresh off the presses.

This tale of congenitally enraged loner (Patch Darragh), spiritually lost Ginger (Jess Weixler) and dim-witted laundromat worker Muzzy (Alfredo Narciso), a trio of disgruntled twentysomethings who embark on a cross-country robbing and murdering spree, has its antecedents in such films as Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, Terrence Malick's Badlands and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. But if Safe is ultimately not much more than new blood in an old bottle, Fitzgerald's way of telling it through three extended and interlocking monologues -- supplemented by scattered direct exchanges -- smartens up the proceedings to a disturbing fare-thee-well, helped immeasurably by Zetna Fuentes' canny direction.

Fitzgerald's gift is that he adroitly makes these seemingly inarticulate figures somehow articulate -- and tops each jam-packed soliloquy with the one that follows it. The specific incidents he focuses on and the language with which he chooses to delineate them is both eye- and ear-popping. Not only phrases but whole sentences -- even paragraphs -- stand out. Talking about a beating he administers, Van calls the victim's overweight stomach "a pudding of guts;" while thinking about deprivation, he says, "You salt and salt your food and you still taste the can."

Even with such a quotable script, Fitzgerald's piece wouldn't be as successful without these actors. Darragh isn't the expected tough guy on a rampage. He plays Van as the guy next door whom everyone says was such a quiet neighbor but whose harbored vengeful and violent thoughts suddenly come loose from their moorings. Indeed, Van's only potential giveaways are the sinister blue-black tattoos on his neck.

Narciso -- who's handed the opening and closing speeches and whose solitaire game is a metaphor for characters in a world of isolation -- works into his characterization an eye tic that signals abiding nervousness. Throughout the play, his Muzzy is the good-hearted but adrift soul, trying to put missing pieces of own personality together and coming up a piece short. Weixler, as a blond waif introduced for the first time to a force she decides is love, uses her piquant eyes and mouth to balance innocence with incipient depravity.

Special mention must also be given to sound designer David Margolin Lawson, who keeps eerie music going all but subliminally, as if it's one of those tuneless tunes often thought to be hummed by the mentally disturbed. It's the ideal underscoring for a play about a shamelessly off-kilter society and its devastating effects on its once-promising young citizens.