TheatreLAB’s The Altruists is nearly perfect
A great script. Check.
Great actors. Check.
Great stage management and lighting design. Check.
Great costume and scene design. Check.
Great sound and direction. Check.
Great props design. Check.
So why do I say just nearly perfect?
Well, there was an inadvertent omission of Maggie Bavolack’s props design in the program.
Fortunately, Bavolack was in the audience, lovely as usual and oh so humbly forgiving of the error.
That’s it. The only thing I could find to nitpick. And it’s only tangentially related to the show itself.
The Altruists is theater magic. Funny, smart, sarcastic, irreverent, and timely.
The so-called “altruists” at the heart of the show are a bunch of selfish, self-absorbed, entitled youngsters with so many networks of causes fanning in every direction that they lack a single moral compass.
They can’t even keep track of what cause du jour they are planning to bring pipe bombs to. Or was it smoke bombs? Is this week’s protest over welfare cuts, school funding, racial inequality, Chinese human rights, gay rights or animal rights? God it’s complicated to be so righteous.
Ronald [Chandler Hubbard] is a do-good social worker who “love[s] a project.” When he finds out that Lance [Joshua Gutierrez], a man he brings home from a bar, is a male prostitute he immediately declares his love and sets out to save him.
Ronald’s sister Sydney [McLean Jesse] is a neurotic, sleeping-pill addicted soap opera star who assures Ronald that Lance will steal from him and leave his heart broken in the process.
Her superior attitude fails to recognize her own dysfunctional arrangement with Swallow [Evan Nasteff], a homeless, philandering social activist who shuns Sydney’s materialist way of life while using her money and credit cards to fund his exploits. He and his friends also steal her antiques to furnish their own apartments.
Cybil [Morgan Meadows] is in a lesbian relationship with Audrey, the only character that we never see. We know from Cybil that she is angry, jealous, and mean. But Cybil’s lesbianism is part of her counter-culture act, which hides the truth that she is a lonely, vulnerable woman in love with a man who doesn’t know she exists.
The show’s focal point is Sydney’s commission of a felony. She faces a life in prison if she’s caught. Swallow and the rest need to prevent that from happening. Not out of love for her, but because a conviction would mean the end of their funding. The lengths they will go to protect their cash cow brings their ugliness into the full light.
So how can we love a show where all the characters are, as described by playwright Nicky Silver himself, “heartless people doing cruel things.”? It is the brilliance of Silver’s script and the sheer excellence of each performance that prevents the characters from being stereotyped or clichéd.
And it is darkly funny. I haven’t laughed so hard (while grimacing at the same time) in a very long time.
Remember The Slaves song Those Who Stand for Nothing Fall for Anything? Well, The Altruists goes to show that if you stand for anything, you’re left with nothing.
The Altruists is brilliant, magic theater.
The show continues at The Basement at 300 East Broad Street through August 8. To purchase tickets visit: https://itkt.choicerm.net/templates/TLAB/.
lie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. She’s the proud mom of two young adult men and is slowly adjusting to having them both away at college. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is the newest member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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