NEW YORK (AP) — If anyone can create a graphic novel onstage, it's the irreverent downtown troupe The Amoralists. As the title implies, good guys will be scarce in "The Bad and the Better," a typically outrageous new play by the troupe's co-founder and resident playwright, Derek Ahonen.
Cartoonish and vulgar, "The Bad and the Better" is a violent and highly entertaining satire that gleefully mocks would-be anarchists, law enforcement officers, sell-out politicians, greedy developers, lefty bookstores, and love, to name but a few targets. Human life has no particular value in the self-billed "detective noir" production that opened Tuesday night off-Broadway at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on West 42nd Street.
Daniel Aukin must have had his hands full directing the large cast of 26, but he admirably keeps the couple dozen characters smoothly zipping on and off the stage, as a multitude of scenes blend into or overlap with one another. Ahonen provides a constant flow of irreverent, snappy dialogue with clever, noirish quips galore, and his plot turns are creatively bizarre.
Act 1 neatly introduces all the characters, but don't get too attached. Act 2 is a fast-paced, twisted barrage of revenge, betrayals and double- or triple-dealings, highlighted (or lowlighted) by a protracted, hands-on murder enthusiastically simulated onstage. The casual violence is foreshadowed by a single gunshot signaling each of the many scene changes.
Faint of heart, also be forewarned that the f-bomb is dropped at least 188 times; even more if you count mentions of the invented Long Island location of South SenFaukit. After a while, the word sounds perfectly natural through sheer repetition.
The wild ride of a story primarily involves two brothers, both policemen, unknowingly entangled in separate parts of what eventually becomes the same case. William Apps plays Rick Lang, a once-legendary but now sidelined detective, with world-weary ease.
David Nash is likeably earnest as Lang's brother Chuck, a more successful cop, currently working undercover with a group of anarchists by posing as a writer named Venus. Sarah Lemp is sexy and comical as Rick's perky, overly worshipful secretary.
Among the anarchists, Nick Lawson is gracefully flamboyant and mysterious as Scotty, Anna Stromberg is innocently sassy as peaceful anarchist Faye, who leads "dance protests," and Regina Blandon is memorably zealous as trigger-happy Inez.
The primary villain, a heartless real estate developer (is there any other kind?) named Zorn, is portrayed with oily relish by Clyde Baldo. The whole cast is strong in their generally intense characterizations.
Lighting shifts (designed by Natalie Robin) are critical to the successful establishment of multiple locations on the small stage, cleverly laid out by Alfred Schatz to serve alternately as a bookstore, a bar, a cop's office, protester-filled New York City streets, a house on Long Island, and a penthouse. Colorful costumes by Moria Clinton enhance the production's comic-book ambience.
Those who want to experience this dark, funny, chaotic theatrical event have until July 21. Better fasten your seat belts.