The main character in Howard Korder's "Search and Destroy is obsessed by a desire to make a movie. It's a particularly telling plot point since this extremely episodic script seems obsessed with becoming a movie.
Of course, movies get away with being episodic because they have the technical capacity to dissolve the time and space between scenes. Not so on stage. And as directed by John Blair and designed by Tony Colavito, the elaborate set changes in Fells Point Corner Theatre's production expand the time between scenes instead of dissolving it.
Colavito's obsession seems to have been designing convertible pieces of scenery -- a desk becomes a bus seat becomes a car, etc. However, the one constant element in his set is an accurate, if somewhat literal, representation of the play's central theme. The floor and back wall are bisected by the lines of a highway culminating at the horizon in a dollar sign topped by a star. Modern America, Korder's script suggests, is trying to take the fast road to big bucks and stardom.
But this is a cautionary tale, and as the protagonist learns, that road can be scary, dangerous, illegal and downright seamy. The protagonist is Martin Mirkheim, a small-time show business promoter who falls under the sway of a cable TV guru named Dr. Waxling -- a man whose philosophy is built on the power of threats. Mirkheim is determined to make a movie of a novel Waxling has written. And when the "good doctor" demands $500,000 for the rights, Mirkheim stops at nothing to get it.
A complete nebbish who ends up a threat himself, Mirkheim isn't an easy character to portray. Mark Squire has a handle on the nebbish angle, but he fails to make Mirkheim's transformation convincing -- a shortcoming that appears to be built into the script.
Director Blair elicits colorful performances from his versatile cast, most of whose members play multiple roles. As a cocaine-addicted political consultant, Tim Munn looks so wired, he could start an electrical fire. Colavito does a more effortless job onstage than backstage in the dual roles of two businessmen -- one legit and one not. As a secretary who writes slasher screenplays in her spare time, Heather Osborne is a blend of sweetness and sleaze; L. K. Bloom portrays a Honduran drug dealer with a smile as creepy as the grin on a death's head; and Mark E. Campion is a hoot in the small but showy role of Dr. Waxling.
However, the actor who truly makes your skin crawl is Tom Nolte as Mirkheim's cool, collected, well-connected sidekick. He's the type of polite, educated gentleman you'd invite home, without ever suspecting he was Mephistopheles in a Brooks Brothers suit.
Most of "Search and Destroy" isn't half this subtle. Though the playwright clearly has a keen ear for dialogue, his script turns out to be a slow ride down that fast road, with little enlightenment along the way.
What: "Search and Destroy"
Where: Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.
When: 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; through June 13
Call: (410) 276-7837