Carrollton — Plaza Arts Center is an old movie theatre in historic downtown Carrollton that is currently hosting L.I.P. Service’s production of Search & Destroy by Howard Korder. The old movie house is a great place for a play about a guy who thinks making a movie will take him great places.
But things rarely work out that neatly.
Search & Destroy is set at the turning of the decade. Protagonist Martin Merkheim (Danny Macchietto) feels as though the Eighties ship has sailed leaving him stuck dry-docked in the Nineties. It’s partly his sinking business and the accompanying back taxes he owes to the state of Florida, but partly, it’s the preaching of a late night television guru, Doctor Waxling (John Pfaffenberger).
And what happens when, psyched-up on self-help, a zero believes he’s hero and follows his guru’s message, which hypes the ends no matter the means? He sets out to turn said guru’s book into a movie. No matter that he doesn’t have the money, the connections, the experience. No matter what.
Playwright Korder hearkens from an older era marked by gritty dialogue and grittier characters. Like Mamet and Shepard, the descent into their world leaves our values behind.
The first problem is Martin is small time, pathetically small time. Danny Macchietto captures the essence of this feckless loser with a lateral lisp and gestures that burn into your memory like watching a drowning man. As he embarks on his adventure the tone is laughably absurd, but something happens.
Search & Destroy has that Breaking Bad ability to make you pull for the little guy, no matter the consequences or the insurmountable odds. Like watching an ant maneuver a tasty morsel across a busy sidewalk, he’ll probably get stepped on, but if he makes it…what a ride!
Director Jason Leyva has assembled a 16-person cast to stage this play that moves more like a movie. He’s designed a set that wisely utilizes a rear projection to allow for the many locations needed for Merkheim’s meandering American adventure. Almost every scene introduces a new character, which provides a challenge for some of the actors who sometime greet their brief time on stage with more intensity than their scene requires, but when this happens they mercifully disappear again.
Some characters stick around and the evening is better for it. Merkheim meets a mysteriously confident gentleman named Kim (Aaron Lett) who becomes a sort of business partner for Merkheim. Mr. Lett’s performance adds a much needed ballast to Macchietto’s frenzied Merkheim. Kim, also, introduces Merkheim to a drug dealing classmate, Ron (Trey Albright). Albright somehow adds stakes to the proceedings so that by the time the Colombian drug lord Pamfilo (Nathan Amir) appears, the audience believes the danger is real.
In fact, when we do meet Doctor Waxling, played with menace by Pfaffenberger, he hammers home one of his tenets: be a threat. No one takes you seriously otherwise. Director Leyva obliges with extra loud gunshots.
When all is said and done, the audience sits there a little overwhelmed, having hitched their evening to a person they don’t particularly like.
It has the feeling of a front porch at the end of a bad date.
And that’s Korder’s achievement: a morality tale for a world with no morality.