Wednesday, February 10, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 90

Sugar Ray, Everlast perform tonight

With Dreamcast on its way, you may have to say 'bye' to N64

About the Cougar

Too sexy for the stage
Crude Shopping wastes talented, skillful performance of actors

By Brenda Tavakoli
Daily Cougar Staff

If you're yearning to have your values challenged and your mind toyed with, go see Houston Theater LaB's production of Shopping and Fucking. But be warned: This is no play for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach.

There are simulated gay sex scenes, nudity and plenty of four-letter words. Though such elements are standard in R-rated movies, the play's coarse subject matter can make such scenes difficult to watch live.

Shopping centers on five characters who are living in various states of disillusionment in present-day England. 

Lulu (Erin E. Kidwell) and Robbie (Dustin Ross) live with and mooch off of their friend Mark (Wayne Wilden). When Mark decides to enter drug rehabilitation, the couple must find a way to support themselves.

Each character adopts a transaction philosophy to steel themselves against the horrors of what they must do to survive. As Mark said, "When you are paying, you can't call it a personal relation. It's business."

What follows are the disastrous and sometimes humorous results of what happens when people try to purge emotion from human interaction.

At times, Lulu and Robbie succeed in detaching themselves from their own feelings, as in the hilarious scene in which they operate a phone sex line. This facade crumbles, though, when Lulu angers him by disconnecting the phone, thereby disconnecting their only source of income.

Also, the characters' suppressed emotions overwhelm even themselves, and melodrama ensues. It's all a bit tiring after a while, and one starts to wish all the characters would go to therapy and get it over with.

However, as one scene poignantly proves, cries for help are often ignored, even by those who are supposed to help.

Gary, a gay teenage prostitute played by Joshua Gary, recounts how his pleas for help fell on deaf ears, leading to a life of bitterness and exploitation.

His suppressed rage and fear bubble beneath the surface of his tattered psyche, exploding in occasional spurts of bitterness. Gary's performance rings true, heart-wrenchingly so at times.

The other actors are convincing as well, especially Daniel Treadway as the sleazy salesman Brian. His eyes and mannerisms ooze with aloofness, and his few displays of emotion are both chilling and funny.

Kidwell, a UH School of Theatre student, shines as Lulu, while Wilden molds Mark into a pitiful, tortured patriarchal figure to Lulu, Robbie and Gary. Ross, a UH School of Theatre alumnus, sometimes slips into melodrama as Robbie, but eases into character as the performance continues.

Conflict works on several levels in Shopping. On the surface, the audience wonders what will become of Mark, Lulu and Robbie.

Additionally, it forces the audience to consider how modern life could cause anyone to think of his actions as emotionless transactions.

This play creates a gritty reality, with the occasional glimmer of hope and humor. Its premise, while intriguing, ultimately becomes weak. It almost seems as if the author uses shopping as a metaphor for modern life's materialism and triviality.

Connection with the characters can be difficult, but that is no fault of the actors. Perhaps playwright Ed Muth doesn't want us to like these denizens. His play, while edgy, relies on many allusions to pop-culture references, much like Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. (Watch for Muth's allusion to Disney's The Lion King).

But pop-culture tidbits only stretch so far. In the end, this brand of controversy and cynicism fails to make for brilliant theater. Brave? Yes. Brilliant? No.

The final performances of the show will run Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 11-13, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 14, at 5 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $22. The theater is located at 1706 Alamo.

For more information, call (713) 869-7516.

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